“I rise today in power’s strength, invoking the Trinity,
believing in threeness,
confessing the oneness,
of creation’s Creator.”
Thus opens the full text of the famous Celtic prayer St. Patrick’s Breastplate
. There is more, much more, to the prayer but the opening lines anchor Patrick not in mythology but far more importantly in Christian theology. St. Patrick’s Day is more than a day to celebrate all things green. We do well to honor St. Patrick as a giant of a Christian leader, missionary, evangelist and bishop. Even more, in celebration of the life and ministry of St. Patrick, we remember in order that we might learn and recommit ourselves to this same great mission in the name of Christ.
His story is a compelling witness to the Christ as Lord of his life and to his love in Christ through the Holy Spirit even for those who mistreated and harmed him.
Captured as a young boy and taken to Ireland as a slave, Patrick lived there for 6 years before miraculously escaping and returning to his native Briton. At age 48 – well past life expectancy in the 5th century – Patrick received a vision from God to return to the land of his imprisonment to share the gospel. Ordained as a bishop and appointed to Ireland as history’s first missionary bishop, he arrived back in this wild and barbaric land with his assistants in 432 A. D.
For 28 years until his death in 460 A. D. he poured his life out leading others to Christ. He and his company baptized thousands, planted about 700 churches, and he ordained perhaps 1,000 priests. “Within his lifetime, 30 to 40 (or more) of Ireland’s 150 tribes became substantially Christian. …Patrick’s achievements included social dimensions. He was the first public man to speak and crusade against slavery. Within his lifetime, or soon after, ‘the Irish slave trade came to a halt, and other forms of violence, such as murder and intertribal warfare decreased,’ and his communities modeled the Christian way of faithfulness, generosity, and peace to all the Irish” (George Hunter, The Celtic Way of Evangelism
, p. 23).
I invite the reader to pause with me and deeply consider Patrick’s witness. In doing so I am reminded that he sought to honor and serve Christ in all he did, with the fullness of his very life! Patrick’s return to Ireland was courageous. His witness to Christ was electric. His sharing of the Christ’s saving grace was bracing. He offered a new possibility, a new way of living in and through Christ that converted a land.
George Hunter’s brilliant book The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again
closes with the profound insight learned from St. Patrick. “The supreme key to reach the West again is the key that Patrick discovered – involuntarily but providentially. The gulf between church people and unchurched people is vast, but if we pay the price to understand them, we will usually know what to say and what to do; if they know and feel we understand them, by the tens of millions they will risk opening their heat to the God who understands them” (George Hunter, The Celtic Way of Evangelism
, p. 121).
We who live in a land more pagan than Christian need to learn again from this great man. We are called like he was to share a witness of Christ for a people spiritually starving, living in a druidic darkness of fear, bombarded by religious quackery, and overdosing on confectionary falsehood. We need to offer God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The claim laid upon Patrick is laid upon us by the Lord.
A brilliant teacher and communicator of the gospel, Patrick used the ever-present native plant, the shamrock, as a symbol of the holy Trinity. Each leaf witnessed to God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a prayer which comes, legend has it, from the breastplate of St. Patrick. I read it first in the old Book of Worship for the United Methodist Church
. I use prayer regularly, and I invite the reader to pray the prayer as well:
“Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ before me, Christ beside me.
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in the mouth of friend and stranger" (Taken from The Book of Worship of the United Methodist Church
, 1964 edition, p. 244).