For June 23, 2013: St Alban’s Day

The Reading            2 Esdras 2:42-48

The apocryphal books of Esdras or Ezra appear to prophesy the Messiah early in Old Testament times, though they were probably composed after Jesus died. Whatever the history, Ezra’s vision on Mount Zion stirringly depicts the heavenly honor that awaits all who, like our patron Saint Alban, are fully faithful to the Son of God.

The Response            Psalm 34:1-8

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him!”

The Epistle            1 John 3:13-16

Ezra described how the Son of God would reward those who are faithful to him. John’s first letter sketches the life of faith: we are to love one another. John 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

“‘Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life  for my sake will find it.’”

 

Further thoughts

Legends about St Alban agree that he lived and died in Verulamium, on the outskirts of modern London, at a time when the penalty under Roman law for confessing Christianity was death. Where the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives the death date as 283 AD, the Venerable Bede’s account points to a date around 304 AD, and one modern scholar has proposed 209 AD while some others suggest 251 to 259 AD.

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 rather than a barracks means that he was either an officer or a well-to-do civilian. In any case, somehow Alban was moved to shelter a fugitive Christian priest. Fascinated by the priest’s piety and testimony, Alban converted to Christianity just before the authorities closed in. After facilitating the priest’s escape by changing clothes with him, Alban was haled before the Roman governor. 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 Alban’s, 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 whether we stand with Christ on the side of life or not. Sometimes the choice is as heroic as Alban’s; more often it is a matter of deciding whether, in this minute, to open a door in love or close it 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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