✠ In the name of Jesus ✠
It is good and fitting for us to observe St. Patrick’s Day–not merely in the way of the world but in keeping with who the man actually was. Just as there was a real St. Nicholas who was a bishop and defender of the Christian faith, so also there was a real St. Patrick who had a zeal for bringing lost souls to the faith back in the 5th century A.D. As Lutherans we rightly honor and give thanks to God for the help He gives to His saints and for the good He works through them.
Patrick actually wasn't Irish but English. His grandfather was a pastor, and his father was a member of the city council and a deacon in the church. When Patrick was 16, he was seized by Irish raiders and sold into slavery there. He was forced to tend the sheep of the Irish chieftain of Ulster. Patrick had not been particularly religious before, but now he turned to God for comfort and strength. Patrick later wrote abut those difficult years: “The love of God and His fear came to me more and more, and my faith was strengthened.”
Patrick eventually escaped from his captors but later, amazingly enough, he felt the call to return to Ireland and preach the Good News of Christ the crucified to the Irish, his former captors. In this way Patrick is a good example of the Scripture which says, “Be merciful, as your Father in heaven is merciful. Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
Patrick was unprepared for such a mission as this, so he went to France to complete his education. He studied theology at a monastery and was soon ordained. Eventually he was sent to Ireland.
Patrick was tireless in his ministry. He overthrew pagan idols. He preached Christ to the Irish chieftains. He founded churches and schools. He later wrote to his flock, “I went even to the farthest districts, beyond which there lived nobody and where nobody had even come to baptize, or to ordain clergy, or to confirm the people. With the grace of the Lord, I did everything lovingly and gladly for your salvation.”
It is because Patrick preached that grace of the Lord Jesus Christ that he is to be remembered. He proclaimed the one true God, the Blessed Holy Trinity, and the Son of God, whose death and resurrection alone brings salvation. As you know, one of the things that is now associated with St. Patrick is the shamrock, the clover with its three leaves. Those three leaves on one stem are symbolic of the Trinity, three persons in one God. He used that as an illustration to teach the people.
There is a hymn that St. Patrick wrote that is even included in our hymnal. The song’s tune is called St. Patrick’s breastplate. Part of the hymn goes like this: “I bind unto myself the name, the strong name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the three in one and one in three, of whom all nature has creation, Eternal Father, Spirit, Word. Praise to the Lord of my salvation; Salvation is of Christ the Lord!”
One of the legends that arose about St. Patrick is that he drove all the snakes off the island, and that’s why there are no snakes in Ireland today. Perhaps that legend arose, however, because of his preaching of the Gospel which drives away the serpent, the devil. For indeed, by Christ’s holy death on the cross, He fulfilled the Scripture which says that the Messiah will crush the head of the serpent. The cross is like a dagger into Satan’s skull, and when Christ crucified is preached and believed, Satan is cast out and defeated. So it is fitting that St. Patrick’s Day always falls during Lent, when we dwell upon the blessed Passion of our Lord for our salvation and our victory over death and the devil in Christ.
Patrick is also an important reminder to us of Jesus’ words to go and make disciples of all the nations: be they Irish or German, be they rich or poor, be they friendly or hostile. We are given to speak of and show Christ’s love to all, and to be willing to suffer for the sake of the truth of God’s Word.
May God grant us also to be zealous and passionate in helping to free others from their false beliefs to bring them to the one true faith, faith in the only Savior, Jesus Christ, who together with the Father and Holy Spirit belongs all worship, honor, glory and praise. Amen.