St. Patrick, the Cross & Missional Formation
As we make our way through this Lenten season, towards our celebration of Easter, Little Flowers Community has been meditating on the Cross and its formational work in shaping us into Christ’s Body, a missional-incarnational people together. This past Wednesday was the Feast of St. Patrick, a man whose life powerfully displayed this pattern of cruciform devotion. And so today, we spent some time learning from his life, discerning the fingerprints of Christ along the day.
Before going further, please know that I am not suggesting the following as a formula or rigid process, but rather a dynamic and fluid pattern that we see reflected throughout the history of God’s redeeming work among humanity.
Patrick was a Romanized-Celt who enjoyed a life of relative wealth and privilege in a northern district of what is today England. While his father was a deacon & his grandfather a priest, Patrick showed little interest in the faith, enjoying instead the pleasures of youth. His was a care-free life. However, at the age of 16, everything changed.
Raiders from the northern tribes attacked his community, pillaging and killing many. Patrick was one of many people captured to be taken back as a slave in the uncharted lands of what is now known as Ireland. Faced with torture and death, the young man was forced to watch as others were beaten and killed on the long journey north.
For years Patrick served as a shepherd for a people he had previously dismissed as savage and inferior. Now he was among the lowest of the low, valued far less than the livestock he was charged to care for. As the years slipped away, so did his hope of escape and freedom.
Then, after six long years of servitude, Patrick received a message from God, promising that his freedom was at hand, miraculously providing everything he needed to return home. Even a ship across the cold, enemy-protected waterways fell neatly into place. And true to his vision, Patrick escaped freedom and returned home a changed man, humble and contrite and thankful to God.
And yet, truly transformed by the grace of God, Patrick obediently follows the call of Christ to return to the land of his captors as a missionary, engaging the people with a vibrant and creative authority rarely seen among Christian then (or since). Today, Ireland owes a great debt to this former slave, as does the Church as a whole. What can we learn from this profoundly moving story?
Patrick lived the life of his youth behind the pretense of wealth and privilege. Like the plants & skins that Adam & Eve used to cover their own sinful nakedness, so to did Patrick cover up his own emptiness and need. This Hidden Nakedness- something we all share- belied the true price that sin exacted upon him. What masks do you wear to cover your own Hidden Nakedness? What pretense covers up your own fears, doubts & failings?
The false security of Patrick’s life was shattered in the chaos of his violent abduction, reducing his wealth, privilege, education, status- everything!- to nothing in the face of this event. Confronted with the fragility of his own mortality and the illusion of his own freedom, the young man was crushed in the face of suffering and death. Here Patrick confronted the reality of The Cross in all its devastating reality. Have there been moments in your life where the masks & pretense have been shattered through suffering or loss? Have you experienced the real suffering of The Cross we are called to take up daily?
Death might have seemed a better option for Patrick, rather than facing the emptiness and indignity of been reduced to the lowest slave. As the days turned to months and the months to years, everything in Patrick died away- his pride, his rights, his expectations, everything. He was left in the emptiness of The Tomb. When faced with Christ’s call to fully surrender your life to Him, what parts of your life to most resist letting die? What aspects hold you back from truly entering The Tomb? Why?
And yet, out of the emptiness was born a new, humble and contrite heart in Patrick. When everything died away and he was left fully at the mercy of God, hope was reborn and way to freedom was made clear by His miraculous grace. Patrick was touched by The Resurrection power of Christ at work in his life. How has this work of Christ’s Resurrection manifested itself it visible ways in your life?
For most people, Patrick’s freedom would have been enough to demonstrate God’s character and power. Most of us are satisfied with the saving work of Christ in our lives. And why not? It is the greatest reality of love and grace possible! And yet, the Holy Spirit stirred Patrick yet again, filling him with the power, passion and purpose of Pentecost to become a missional servant among the very people who caused him so much suffering. Has your Christian devotion largely stopped at the point of redemption and restoration? How is Christ actively calling you to live Pentecost out in missional service to His Kingdom?
Again, this pattern is not a formula. It is not a process of steps that can simply be worked out and completed for your own spiritual benefit. It is the mysterious, but very real work of God through the power of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecost baptism that is available- that is necessary!- for every believer. It is not about an event where we “achieve” God’s will, but rather a journey we follow in becoming the very Body of Christ to the world.
Lord God, we come out of the darkness into Your presence, exposed in the brokenness of our sin. Free of from the lies, excuses and pretences that keep us from standing in the purifying light of Your holiness.
Lead us daily to the Cross, even when every instinct and desire is to flee from the suffering it brings. Help us to truly die to the selfish and narrow impulses of our hearts, relinquishing every right and privilege we hold onto.
Comfort us in the loneliness of the death we must embrace, broken and empty and wholly Yours. Speak to us Your wisdom with Your still, small voice, quieting our souls in the silence of this necessary grave.
Bring us new life, Lord Jesus, as we share in Your wondrous resurrection, celebrating the promise of new life for all Creation. Bind us to You as a Groom to His Bride, and renew us and transform us together into Your image, Your Body.
Fill us and unite us and empower us with Your Holy Spirit, moving us with Your perfect will. Lead us into all the world where we will become and live as Your Body, continuing Your mission to every living thing.
All this we ask in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,