When the world came to an end, it was the summer of the year 410. Rome fell – civilization was erased. A century and more before, Roman officials had executed a Christian martyr in Britannia, one Alban. Then Constantine took legions to the continent and won the imperial throne. But now a century after these events Rome crumbled before the onslaught of a Visigoth horde.
Arthur held together some promise of hope in Britannia. He called it Logres – kingdom of the Grail. And Ninian set sail for the north, Galloway in Caledonia. On the shores looking west and north to Hibernia, however, Irish pirates came across the water and they brought chains. They came for slaves.
One son of a patrician house, now we call him Patrick, was too near the shore, and he was taken. He found himself far across on the other side of a strange island and it was not until he was a teenager (and more) that he left the sheep he’d been set to herd – and walked away, across the island and back across the sea – but to a new future.
He fetched up in a monastery started by Martin of Tours, and he learned a new depth of Christian hope and practice. He was going to be a priest.
Strangely enough it was, then, that this trafficked human, enslaved by the Irish, saw in a dream his calling: to serve those who’d enslaved him, to free his captors. “Come here and walk among us!”
So to Ireland Patrick sailed. He even sought reconciliation with his old master. And he became a champion, confronting the evil of the slave trade, human trafficking. When in turn Irish Christians, ones he himself had baptized, were captured by British Christian slavers, he wrote an excoriating letter, naming and rebuking one Corocticus, making a plea (a strongly worded one) that the slave-master set his fellow Christians free.
Patrick and other mission bishops brought the gospel to fertile soil in Ireland. They were a people ready to receive the word, and it quickly grew, in part because of the form, or lack of it, he used to carry it.
The world had come to an end, the Roman world, and there was little left to hold onto, few elements of the sacred, clad lightly in poverty – not wealth.
But he embraces that poverty, poverty of worldly means, as he taught people to embrace the only things that mattered, that remained (and as long as we have these, Herbert O’Driscoll taught us, we’ll be all right).
These are just a few things – look at the postcard – six words to define the church – and here are six: story, water, oil, bread, wine, people.
We are the water oil bread wine story people.
We have the gospel – the story of God’s love for humankind, the Spirit’s restless seeking for our souls.
We have the baptismal waters and the oil of Chrism (“you are sealed as Christ’s own for ever”).
We have bread, the bread we need, and wine – sustenance and reminder of the Godly provision of Christ our Savior.
And we are the people imbued by the Spirit, called and gifted to tell the story, immerse and bless, share the Table’s abundance, and – gather others in. For these gifts are not ours to keep to ourselves – they take us, break us, transform us, and make us ambassadors for Christ.
And we love to tell the story, and spread the news. He whom Mary wept over and anointed and served is the One who shed more than tears for us, who died indeed and rose to new life, that he might take us with him, and with us others, that all may be reconciled to God, all be freed.
Working for the simple physical liberation from slavery of trafficking victims, we work also for the liberation of souls – even of those who enslave.
May we live into this costly freedom, heed God’s call, and follow the dream of our own calling, that we may come over and bring Jesus even to those once separated from us by far more than a sea. May we be one in Christ, reconciled to one another God through the power of the Spirit, and the work of our Savior, in whose name we pray, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Fifth Sunday in Lent
Herbert O’Driscoll – 10:30 Service January 31, 2010