I wanted to celebrate St Alban this year, whose actual feast day is on the 22nd June, because this church was established way back in 1290 as a minster of the then St. Alban’s Abbey; now St. Alban’s Cathedral. Being a minster meant that the church existed to serve both the local community and a number of surrounding villages. It's a vision I want to re-capture for this church. With our liturgical and musical tradition it is something we can do.
Alban himself was a man of great courage; like our patron Laurence he was martyred for his faith. In often wonder, why the great martyrs were prepared to face death firmly in the face and embrace it. Its a sobering thought isn’t it? Would we be prepared to follow in their footsteps if asked to do so? In Winslow physical martyrdom is unlikely, but around the world there are still many, many, places where to be a Christian is to risk life and limb. We should always pray for those whose faith might mean paying the ultimate sacrifice.
So why would the likes of Laurence and Alban be prepared to risk all for their faith? As is said last week I suspect its because deep down they were utterly secure in their own identity. They knew that their primary identity was in Christ. Such knowledge is the source of ultimate, maybe even eternal, peace and freedom. St. Paul in the reading from the epistle captures this dynamic when he writes:
‘If we have died with him we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.’
The red martyrs who died for their faith, such as Alban and Laurence, challenge us to reflect on the depth of our faith. Faith in this sense doesn’t just mean belief, or even believing the right things, it means something far deeper: knowing that our deepest and eternal identity is in Christ and that this simple fact changes everything.
As I have already said in Winslow it is highly unlikely that any of us are going to face the possibility of risking our very lives for our faith. But, we are all called on to become what the church came to call ‘white martyrs.’ Each and everyone of us should be prepared to own the name ‘Christian.’ Each and every one of us must be prepared to profess to the truth of Jesus Christ in both word and deed. Each and everyone of us should be prepared to become ‘a good (foot) soldier of Christ Jesus,’ and so what if we take a little stick, or if people think we are a bit odd? We should take great courage in the notion that if we seek to live as disciples of Jesus Christ, things we happen around us, for as St. Paul says ‘the word of God is not chained.’
Like Alban we too are called upon to be people of prayer. It is through prayer, talking to God and more importantly listening to God, that our lives are changed and that we become the sort of people who serve others secure in our own identity. Its through prayer that we become resilient. It is through prayer that we develop that deep sense of peace that we hear about in the Old Testament reading where Solomon writes that ‘their departure was thought to be a disaster, their going from us their destruction, but they are at peace.’
Alban and Laurence were men of deep prayer. Through prayer they cam to know and own their deepest identity as beloved children of God. This sense of Peace allowed them to act courageously. The fact that we still tell and celebrate their stories today proves one thing above all else: ‘that the word of God cannot be chained.’
My invitation to you this week is to reflect on the lives of Alban (and Laurence) and let their stories lead you into an ever deepening faith.