"Among the roses of the martyrs, brightly shines Saint Alban…"
Long ago, two or three centuries after the first Pentecost, a man named Alban lived in the Roman town of Verulamium in the province of Britannia. He served the Emperor – Septimius Severus or possibly Diocletian – and did his duty by the pagan gods.
It was a time of persecution for the church. To Alban’s door came a Christian priest seeking sanctuary. Alban took him in, gave him shelter – and listened to his story.
When at last soldiers came to take away the guilty man, it was Alban, donning the white robe of the priest (and martyr) who gave himself up, taking the fugitive’s place.
They dragged him before the judge. Accused of Christianity, would there be enough evidence to convict him?
Soon enough, he confessed, in words that still ring true: "I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things." He was condemned out of his own mouth.
The judge sentenced him to death and the soldiers led him away to the place of execution. There he bared his neck to the sword, and died witnessing to the new faith he had learned.
He never went to church, he never owned a Bible: he never had a chance to. And yet he was a faithful servant of Christ.
The story of Alban – a story of an unwavering witness to Christ, who followed in his footsteps even to his death – still has power. By his example, he calls us from false faith to true.
What fake gods have we followed? What tricksters of glamour, of image, of ease, of wealth, of power, have gratified us with their easy answers to life? What causes us to turn from them, and seek the face of the true and living God?
Last year, preaching at the shrine of Saint Alban in England, the Venerable Mark Oakley, Archdeacon of Germany and Northern Europe, identified these gods for modern Romans: “Gloss”, the goddess of beautiful surfaces; “Obese”, the god of insatiable acquisition; “Instantaneous”, the goddess who says you can have it all now; and “Punch”, the god of violence, institutional and systemic, and cult-god of hate.
We might pick other gods – but should we?
Better turn to the one true and living God, source of all being, eternal Word, and holy Spirit: he who calls us out of error into truth, out of bondage to desire and appetite into the freedom of grace and gratitude, out of the death-cult of Empire into the life of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Almighty God, by the Passover of your Son you have brought us out of sin into righteousness and out of death into life: Grant to those who are sealed by your Holy Spirit the will and the power to proclaim you to all the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Almighty God, we thank you for this place built to your glory and in memory of Alban, Britain’s first martyr: following his example in the fellowship of the saints, may we worship and adore the true and living God, and be faithful witnesses to the Christ, who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. AMEN.