Saint Alphege – Br. James Koester
Feast of St. Alphege, Abbot of Bath, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Martyr, 1012
Some of you may remember that a few years ago I spent Holy Week and Easter at Canterbury Cathedral. During one of the liturgies on Maundy Thursday I was seated up in the sanctuary near the High Altar. At one point I looked down at my feet and found that on the floor beneath me the name Alphege had been incised into the floor. When I asked later I found that this was not simply an inscription but was the actual place where St. Alphege, the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1006 to 1012 was buried. Today marks the 1000th anniversary of Alphege’s death at the hands of Danish soldiers.
You may know that this was a period of great turmoil in English history. England had been repeatedly invaded, raided and attacked by Danish armies and at one time well over half of England was occupied by the Danes. Canterbury had been sacked and Alphege taken prisoner and while he assented to tribute being paid to the Danes, he was not willing that a ransom be paid for his release. That, and the fact that he was able to convert many of the Danish soldiers, including some key figures in the Danish army to Christianity enraged the Danes. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records Alphege’s death in this way:
… the raiding-army became much stirred up against the bishop, because he did not want to offer them any money, and forbade that anything might be granted in return for him. Also they were very drunk, because there was wine brought from the south. Then they seized the bishop, led him to their hustings on the Saturday in the octave of Easter, and then pelted him there with bones and the heads of cattle; and one of them struck him on the head with the butt of an axe, so that with the blow he sank down and his holy blood fell on the earth, and sent forth his holy soul to God’s kingdom.1
One of the marks of Easter is our reading of The Acts of the Apostles. Sunday by Sunday and day by day at the Eucharist we read portions of Acts. The fascinating thing about Acts is that while we have met many of the people of Acts in the Gospels, they are totally different. In the Gospels the disciples are portrayed as dimwitted, argumentative and clueless. Jesus is constantly asking them “What are you arguing about?” or “Do you too, not understand?” But in Acts they are bold and courageous even in the face of hostility. Something had clearly happened. That something was the Resurrection and they lived, and ultimately died, as if the Resurrection mattered. When commanded not to speak, they spoke. When commanded not to heal, they healed. When commanded not to proclaim, they proclaimed even more.
Today we remember another who lived, and died, as if the Resurrection mattered. Alphege was not so much concerned about his own welfare, as the welfare of his people, and the burden a ransom would place on them. He was concerned not so much about his own life, as the life of the Danes who abused him. He lived as if the Resurrection mattered.
So I wonder, how would your life change if the Resurrection really mattered? Would you be bold and courageous in telling others what God has done for you? Or are you still a little dimwitted, argumentative and clueless? As the Collect from last Sunday prays: “Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess by their faith.”2
This was certainly true of those early disciples. It was true for Alphege. May it be true for us.
1 Swanton, Michael James (trans.) (1998). The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. New York: Routledge page 142
2 BCP, 1979, Collect for the Second Sunday of Easter, page 224
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For me, the world has so profaned the name of Jesus (in the guise of bigotry, hatred, warmongering, and especially exclusivity) that I must admit to great hesitation about saying the name of Jesus in public — where I might be lumped in with the so-called bigots; I might offend a non-Christian friend, I might be labeled a holy roller, etc. It takes courage for me to proclaim the name of Jesus; and I will pray for that.
He is Risen, as he said!
Jesus didn’t just Rise from the dead… he said he would and he did… And YET, the disciples are in hiding waiting on the Lord to prompt them as to what to do next. Jesus also foretold his Ascension and the Coming of the Holy Spirit… They are still stumbling around tripping over the next step.
We so fast forward through this Mystagogy Season!
Perhaps the “Acts of the Apostles” challenges us to ponder these 50 days— to bear witness to how all the pieces fit together. And raises the question of am I living the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. These 50 days compels me to examine my own ‘editing’ of the journey. What time do I spend contemplating the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the fruit of those Gifts… how is the fruit made visible in the Acts of the Apostles? in my actions!
What does the Holy Spirit reveal about Our Lord’s relationship to the Father and our relationship to Our Father…
We are one Body, One Body in Christ… and we do not stand alone
The courage of the early Christians is really awe inspiring and feel ashamed that I do not speak up enough for my Christian faith. I would not get through the day without remembering Jesus’ teachings to guide me.
Thank you for the sermon.
Thank you for this reminder and prompt.
I found your information about St. Alphege interesting as I went to school at Simon Langton Girls’ School from 1947-55
Am I bold and courageous in sharing what God has done for me? The answer is no. The secular world affects me, the desire for acceptance and approval from those I care about that are not faithful matters to me. There continues to be a fear of rejection. I see this as a true opportunity for spiritual growth. It is a tension within me. I feel there is a “sweet spot” a way of being and communicating my faith that can inspire and provoke curiosity. I am seeking that place…..
I always learn from you, Br. James!
A few summers ago, I spent some time in the abbey on Iona and visited the holy island (Lindesfarne), etc. as well. One of my friends there was a direct descendant of Alfred the Great who converted some of the invaders. It’s an interesting story. It is so peaceful there now, and, being Swedish, it is hard to imagine the level of violence there then.
Yet, we know that there are many opportunities to “step up” and tell of how Christ has changed our lives. I struggle with it constantly, but know that “timing” is the key: to wait, study, plan, be prepared, do the work, then seize the moment, and always praying for the inspiration and God’s guidance.