For June 24, 2012: St Alban’s Day

The Reading            2 Esdras 2:42-48

The books of Esdras or Ezra present themselves as prophecies of the Messiah from far back in Old Testament times, though they were probably composed in Latin several centuries after Jesus died. In any case, Ezra’s vision on Mount Zion is a stirringly mystical account of the honor that awaits in heaven for all who, like our patron Saint Alban, are fully faithful to the Son of God.

The Response            Psalm 34:1-8

The Epistle            1 John 3:13-16

Ezra rapturously described how the Son of God would reward those who are faithful to him. John’s first letter sketches out the path we are to take as followers: the path of loving one another. The letter also reminds us of the cost—whether, like Saint Alban, we lay down our lives all at once or whether we lay them down minute by minute and day by day.

The Gospel            Matthew 10:34-42

 

Further thoughts

Legends about St Alban agree that he lived and died in Verulamium, outside London, two to three centuries after the birth of Christ. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives the death date as 283 AD. The Venerable Bede’s account points to a date around 304 AD, though one modern scholar has proposed 209 AD and some others suggest 251-259 AD; these are times when Roman edicts made Christianity punishable by death.

Tradition says that Alban was British and a soldier in the Roman army. Since Roman legions recruited locally, both may be true, though his living in a house means that he was either an officer or a well-to-do civilian. In any case, somehow Alban took into his home a Christian priest who was on the run. Fascinated by the priest’s piety and testimony, Alban converted to Christianity. As the authorities closed in, Alban changed clothes with the priest so the priest could escape. Alban was haled before the Roman governor, who may have been a son of the emperor Septimius Severus and who was certainly irate to find that the priest had gotten away. Neither threats nor flogging could induce Alban to sacrifice to the Roman gods, whose efficacy he disparaged, so the exasperated governor ordered him beheaded. En route to the execution site, a hill outside Verulamium, the waters of the river Ver parted to let Alban and his executioners cross; at the top of the hill Alban prayed for water and a spring rose up. His executioner then threw down his sword and declared himself also Christian. A substitute executioner beheaded Alban and the first executioner, only to have his eyes fall out.

Alban’s reply when the governor demanded his name—“My parents called me Alban, and I worship and adore the true and living God who made all things”—remains part of prayers at the church that was built over the site of his execution, St Alban’s Cathedral in St Albans, UK.

As England’s first martyr and our patron, St Alban is a hero, and his story is a myth in the fullest and best sense. The word myth is commonly used of something that is entirely untrue.  Among scholars, however, a myth is a story that explains how something in the world came to be and also sheds light on how humans either are or ought to be: it may not be factual, but it is assuredly true. The myths of St Alban vary in details, but all show a man accepting the faith and defending it at the cost of his life. We of the 21st century face few enemies of the Church who can order us executed. We are, however in a world that makes us choose, day by day and sometimes minute by minute, whether we stand with Christ on the side of life or not. Sometimes the choice is big and heroic; more often it is a matter of deciding whether to spend this minute opening doors in love or closing doors in fear. May the love of Christ and the example of St Alban always embolden us to choose love and life for Christ.

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