At the end of last year my family and I made a move to a new part of the country, to a new diocese, to a new church. We made it through the coldest winter our southern blood has ever experienced, and the kids have found themselves at a school and in an environment where they seem to be doing very, very well, and that is all good.
COVID protocols, the winter months, and the seasons of Lent and Easter meant that our celebration of new ministry at my new parish would take place later, and when I was given dates for the ministry, I picked the most convenient day instead of checking the Church calendar, and that’s how I ended up celebrating my new ministry with these wonderful people on the Feast of Saint Alban, the first British martyr and on a day when the propers say things like, “Don’t be surprised that everyone hates you” (1 John 3:13) and “I have come to set families one against the other” (Matthew 10:35).
Did I mention that this is a parish that is made up of families who have been here together for generations? And that the last thing I want to do is divide them one from the other? And that now (as I write this) the bulletin has been approved, so there’s no turning back or looking for an alternative date or saint to commemorate on this feast day? A simple grace in this is that I’m not preaching, our bishop will be.
These appointed readings are also a reminder to me of the challenges we face in life and ministry and how tone is interpreted and understood. Certainly, some folks may read that and think, “Yeah, they hate me because I’m a Christian” when, in reality, we 21st century western Christians are likely the least persecuted group in human history.
Instead, we know that the first century community hearing these words is a community that’s fractured, broken because of disparate beliefs, and trying to make sense of who Jesus is. Of course, there’s some hurt here because this was a movement and a time when people were going in different directions. People who once sat together in civil conversation now can’t stand to be in a room with one another because they each see Jesus in a fundamentally different way, and it’s become a bridge too far for some of them to cross.
As a pagan living in Roman occupied Britain in the third century, Alban noticed a Christian priest fleeing persecution. Alban saw this man passing through his town not as an enemy to be turned in, but as someone who needed a place to rest. Over several days of deep conversation, Alban became so taken with the man’s faith and devotion that he became a Christian himself. When Roman officers knocked on his door looking for the priest, Alban turned himself in as if he was the priest, willing to die for the man he’d sheltered for only a short period of time.
An unwillingness to understand and care for one another can cause us all to say and do some terrible things, sometimes all on our own, other times because we want to be a part of a group, or because someone told us to do them. Such acts have a way of sticking with some of us, keeping us up at night, wishing we’d done something differently or treated someone better.
Alban, though, points us to something different. Rather than succumbing to the group mentality of his day, Alban welcomed an individual who needed a place to be, a place to rest. Alban reminds us that those moments of can change us and help us grow more fully into who God is calling us to be.
As I finish up this post, I have to say, I’m even more thankful for the students at the schools where our kids now attend. They have welcomed them into their community and classes, making them feel like they are a part of a place that our two didn’t know existed until six months ago. Our two children haven’t converted anyone yet (not that that expectation exists!), but like that Christian priest who found comfort in Alban’s home, our two are beginning to find their places, as well.