Thursday, June 23, 2011

More Martyrs

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Alban, the first martyr of Britain. Martyrs seem to be a theme with me recently...

Alban was killed by the Roman Empire in a crackdown on Christianity in the third Century. His death was voluntary: he volunteered himself in place of a priest to whom he'd offered hospitality. After a few short days of conversation with the priest, Alban embraced Christianity, and then was required to either turn in his guest, or offer himself. He did the latter.

I spent last Saturday at St. Alban's Cathedral, in (where else?) St. Albans, England. It was for the annual observance of St. Alban's Day. Hundreds of folks came--the event took me by surprise. I'd been expecting something stodgy and conventional. But it was nothing like that. Huge puppets dominated the outdoor procession. The spring which welled up to slake Alban's thirst was suggested by the local fire department blasting fire hoses from the shrubbery. Scores of children participated too: dressed as flowers, stained glass windows, soldiers and monks the procession was colorful and LIVELY!! The high point, for most of the little boys at least, was when the centurion who chops off Alban's head loses his eyeballs in some kind of divine retribution, and they roll around the grass...

I am not sure who the guiding genius is behind this extraordinary event. It got even better inside the Cathedral with the girls choir singing a jazz mass. The Dean of the Catheral is Jeffrey John, who seems unpopular with the Church hierarchy because he is a gay man in a relationship. I suspect he is the source of the razzle-dazzle. Even the way he introduced the different pilgrim groups had people laughing out loud--in an English Cathedral. I was totally charmed.

The day ended with everybody filing past the shrine of St. Alban singing special words to a familiar tune (The Battle Hymn of the Republic):

We sing of holy Alban and his suffering for the Lord,
of resounding words of witness for the Christ whom he adored;
of his boldness and his daring and his dying by the sword;
his faith is marching on.
Glory, glory, hallelujah! ...His faith is marching on!

It was an inspiring day. The classsical formulation is that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church: new life and growth and encouragement springs from their witness.

It worked for me. The Cathedral was packed. The Dean made us laugh and everyone felt welcomed: imagination was unfettered.

It made me think: imagine if this man was a bishop!

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