Christ’s Love Remains
We often forget our true ancestry. Looking around, I would say most of us come from a European background. Mostly some German or Slovak. Maybe a little Anglo-Saxon, and, who knows, maybe some Irish.
When we think back to our ancestors, though, we don’t think back far enough. What were our European ancestors like? Well, if you go back far enough, they weren’t like Europeans at all. Before Christianity – before the Church – and before the Roman Empire reached our lands, we lived a tribal life. And not a peaceful one.
The various germanic and other tribes that littered the northern European continent were as brutal and barbaric – and their religions were as spiritually dark and demonic – as the tribes of the deepest parts of Africa or South America.
Worship of violent, demanding spirits. Superstition, idol worship, animal sacrifice – your European ancestors even engaged in human sacrifice and child sacrifice – worship of ancestral spirits which were truly devils. Living in filth. Dressed in animal skins. War-painted faces and bodies for their constant warring and raiding and looting.
Our ancestors were the same as any who you might now think of as savage tribes and our religion was no different than that of voodoo witchdoctors, or whatever you might call them.
What changed? Politically, the Roman Empire changed us. Very early on, around the time Christ was being born down in Palestine, the Roman Empire was reaching all the way up as far as Great Britain.
The Roman Empire, though still pagan, brought relative political civility to many of our barbaric ancestors - by slaying and conquering many of our ancestors. In the centuries following, the Christian Church would bring religious truth – knowledge of the true God – to our ancestors by telling them about the Savior who was slain for them. And so was born, finally, the Christian Europe from which we come.
By the end of the fourth century AD – by the late 300’s that is – much of our ancestral land of Europe was indeed already Christianized. But there was a stronghold – a very strong, stronghold – of religious darkness and tribal savagery that, as of that time, neither the Roman Empire nor the Christian faith was able to civilize. Who was it? It was the Irish! Today is, after all, St. Patrick’s day!
St. Patrick’s day is what? It’s a day of shamrocks and leprechauns and shamrock shakes and corned beef and cabbage, and green pancakes for breakfast, and a green river in Chicago – and a lot of fun, green, Irishy stuff. But, in truth, St. Patrick is a true Christian saint – with a life story that is a testimony to the true Gospel – and today is really his day on the Church’s calendar. It is St. Patrick’s day, a holiday (holy-day) well worth remembering.
St. Patrick’s life and ministry was one of trouble, faith, and forgiving his enemies. St. Patrick was not Irish by birth. Instead, Patrick was born to the south of Ireland in the island that is now England. St. Patrick was born into a Christian home, yet was not particularly devote or religious as a youngster.
But then trouble came. The Irish came. Pagan Irish raiders invaded Patrick’s hometown when he was still a boy, captured and kidnapped him and his two sisters, and made him a slave. Patrick was forced into slavery by the Irish as a shepherd-slave – living in danger and cold nights and malnourishment and ill treatment and abuse by his captors.
The Irish pagan tribes were as dark and brutal as any, worshiping terrible, violent gods – engaging in human sacrifice, and so on. And they were fierce and successful warriors.
Patrick however was eventually able to escape his captivity, after six years. He managed to return to his hometown and to his parents. And Patrick, instead of taking up the sword to get his revenge on the Irish, and instead of staying home – he decided instead, perhaps prompted by a dream, to become a minister of the Gospel, a pastor, a priest, and to devote his life to bringing the Gospel of Christ’s forgiveness to that brutal nation which had brutalized him. His life’s endeavor was to bring God’s forgiveness to those who had been his kidnappers.
This goal was delayed and delayed. Patrick eventually was made a bishop, but still could not get himself assigned to a post in Ireland for decades, though he tried tirelessly. But eventually, at around age 60, it happened. Patrick was sent to bring the Gospel to the Irish. That violent and savage tribe, which so long resisted, finally – and quite quickly – repented of their darkness and turned to the Gospel of Christ through St. Patrick’s preaching.
St. Patrick traveled from one side of Ireland to the other, converting bands of warriors all along the way. Ireland, in lightening speed, became a Christian people.
In the years following, the Roman Empire would become increasingly a Christian empire religiously, but a weakening empire politically. As Roman order and civility crumbled, barbarism was on the rise again. But this time it was the now-Christian-Irish who would spread, or re-spread and preserve, the Christian faith throughout Europe by the work of their many Irish missionaries.
So, if you’re thankful for your heritage, if your thankful for the Christian faith, if your thankful that so many of your European ancestors knew Christ, then give thanks to God for His work through the life and ministry of St. Patrick.
What does this have to do with this Wednesday in the fourth week of Lent and with tonight’s portion of the Passion Narrative, Christ in the Praetorium? Only this: that just as St. Patrick would one day bring God’s forgiveness to those who had been his enemies, so tonight we see where that forgiveness began – in Jesus, the Son of God, who gave His life for His enemies, His captors, both Jews and Gentile Pagans who held Him captive in Pontius Pilate’s praetorium (his judgment hall) and in King Herod’s palace.
Tonight, Jesus is held captive; tonight, Jesus is mocked in the cruelest of ways; tonight, Jesus is hated by wicked darkness for being the Righteous One – in the Praetorium and in Herod’s palace, Christ continues to be condemned by false witnesses to the cross. They hold Him captive like a slave-Shepherd and treat Him shamelessly.
The chief priests of the Jews, who knit-pick in their keeping of the Law, falsely hand over the Righteous One to be killed contrary to all Law. Pontius Pilate, the gentile governor, knowing Jesus to be innocent, holds Him in bondage still and, in cowardice, hands Him over to the death penalty. The gentile, pagan soldiers treat Jesus with all barbaric brutality. The Jewish crowds shout, “Crucify Him!” For all these, His captors and abusers, Jesus gives His life.
Jesus endured their mocking and whipping and nails and spear for their sake. For those chief priests and for those pagan soldiers – for Herod and for Pilate – and for those Irish and German barbarians a thousand miles away worshiping demons in the forest – Jesus gave His life on the Cross. On the Cross, He will pray for all of them, “Father, forgive them.” On the Cross, Jesus bears their sins, dies the penalty of sin in their place, to set them free and forgiven so that they might know the true God and be renewed in peace with Him.
This love of Jesus is the love that, by the Holy Spirit, was residing in the heart of St. Patrick so that many wicked people could hear his preaching and so be saved through knowledge of the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
You, brothers and sisters, may never get a holy-day named after you, but the same Jesus who was in St. Patrick’s heart is in you. You are here so that the true Gospel of Christ might remain here as a light in this darkening nation.
Soon, this nation might become as wicked and perverse as the old pagan tribal nations of our ancestors. But just as the Gospel was there for our ancestors to run to, so also, in you, Jesus will keep His true Gospel of forgiveness, and His bright Law of true righteousness, alive and well-lit so that the spiritually-darkened pagans of tomorrow may find peace and renewal in the true God once again.
We give thanks, therefore, to Jesus Christ for so loving Jews and Gentiles, Irish and German pagans, our ancestors – and for so loving us sinners today, you and me – that His love still remains among us, though it is our sins which were holding Him captive. Amen.