Faithful Even Unto Death – Br. David Vryhof
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The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1). By their example and by their prayers they support and encourage us, and give us strength to be faithful to Christ in our own day.
Today we stand in the presence of one of these witnesses: St Alban, a Roman soldier who became the first Christian martyr in Britain. Alban was stationed at Berulamium, a city about twenty miles northeast of London, and lived in the early part of the 4th century, or possibly the 3rd century (the actual date of his martyrdom is uncertain). Although he was a pagan, he befriended and welcomed into his home a Christian priest who was fleeing persecution. Observing the prayerful life of the priest, he was moved to question him about his faith. The priest’s replies led him to believe and put his trust in Christ.
In the meantime, reports that the priest was hiding with Alban reached the authorities. Soldiers were sent to arrest him. When they came to his home, Alban met them at the door, wearing his guest’s cloak, the customary garb of a Christian priest, and presented himself as the man they were looking for. He was arrested and brought to the military governor, who saw through his disguise.
The Venerable Bede, a monk and early Church historian, gives this account of Alban’s trial: “When Alban was brought in, the judge happened to be standing before an altar, offering sacrifice to devils… ’What is your family and race?’ demanded the judge. ‘How does my family concern you?’ replied Alban; ‘If you wish to know the truth about my religion, know that I am a Christian and am ready to do a Christian’s duty.’ ‘I demand to know your name,’ insisted the judge. ‘Tell me at once.’ “My parents named me Alban,’ he answered, ‘and I worship and adore the living and true God, who created all things.’
Alban was tortured and martyred in place of the priest, on the hilltop where the Cathedral of St Alban’s now stands. He was, as the collect for today reminds us, “faithful even unto death” and for this he has been remembered down through the ages.
“Faithful unto death.” For Alban, “faithful unto death” meant being tortured and beheaded. For us, it will mean something quite different. Alban’s Christian life was brief, but our calling to be “faithful unto death” may well stretch over decades of time. Most of us are called to “a spirituality for the long haul.” Our faithfulness will be measured in small things, daily decisions and choices, the constant turning of our hearts to God. We will be asked to turn away from the voices that discourage us or tell us that the offering of our lives to God is foolishness, and to embrace each day the particular vocation that God has given us.
What does it mean, what will it mean, for you to be “faithful even unto death?”
“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes, “let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12: 1-2).
May we find grace today, and every day, to follow Alban and to follow Christ on the way that leads to never-ending life. May we, too, be “faithful even unto death.”
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Lately , I have been overwhelmed by the fact that Emmanuel is indeed God With Us.
Eyes wide open, He presents Himself to us in so many beautiful ways from day to day.
Yes, Yes, let us “lay aside every weight” and see the Glory of God made visible –
A flock of geese majestically crossing the sky, a Divine encounter with someone we are blessed to encourage and a multitude of grace filled encounters ….
I am in a season of grief having lost a beloved family member in a traumatic accident, but have the understanding that God is Present, even so and must hold fast to this reality.
Blessings, Peace and Love.
Having more time to spend with God is THE blessing of years. Thankfully, there is more time to see, watch, and listen for divine guidance. These are things I never knew about old age, but it is so much more relaxing being able to just lie down in God’s green pastures. Praise God our Creator and Companion.
Thank you, Br David, for the St Alban devotion. This saint inspired me for 10 years while we attended St Albans Abbey/Cathedral in England, so seeing him come up in the daily devotions felt like ‘home’. As a guide, I felt privileged to tell his story to pilgrims and visitors. I want to point out 2 small ‘corrections’…Alban lived in the town of Verulamium (not Berulamium, probably a typing error); and it is not known whether he was a Roman solider, although many 19thC stained glass artists portrayed him as such (due to the influence of the British Empire?). Those are minor details, however, compared with the powerful reality (which you shared) of his new faith and courage to own up to Jesus as his Lord, not the Roman emperor!
The older I get, the more I understand the necessity of relying completely on God for all things:
daily decisions and choices, the constant turning of my heart toward God. Thankfully, I have come to the point of realizing I can do nothing on my own and I am totally, completely dependent on God. I cannot wish or hope a thing to death, nor can I — by my own physical or mental health — make a thing happen. This, for me, is surrender. It is not giving up, but rather surrendering to a life lived with God, in Whom I live and move and have my being. What a blessed relief! As I am currently living with several tenuous situations in my life I realize that my prayer about and for these things is initiated by God, in that God asks me to live in the present moment only, accepting what is, right here and right now. It’s liminal space, which requires me to trust beyond what I ever thought humanly possible. It’s surrendering to God’s grace and God’s will and God’s promise that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than my ways and thoughts — and now the understanding that it’s always been that way. The relationship is closer and deeper than ever before and many burdens have been lifted through this surrender and the letting go of the pretense that I could do this all or even mostly myself while making sure that God was sitting comfortably on the back seat of the tandem bike I was steering through life. I was worn out from this way of living and happy indeed for the grace to surrender. All is well, and all is well, and all manner of things shall be well.
It’s always good to remember that we all don’t have to be St. Alban or Mother Teresa. It’s not an all or nothing choice. Every small turning toward God glorifies him. And each single action often opens up a whole new “world” or perhaps a glimpse of the Kingdom. The present moment just keeps happening so the opportunities keep happening.
Thank you for this. I have recently been turning more consistently to my prayer beads to use in daily prayer to strengthen my “faith for the long haul.” May we all have eyes and hearts to see and feel God’s grace today.
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Visiting St. Alban’s was one our favorite places to visit. Such an impressive
place! The mission church in MO, which my husband pastored for 14 yrs.,
is also St. Alban’s. The story of Alban is inspiring. He was one of ( if not THE first) martyrs in Britain. That beautiful old building, set on a hill, is an enduring testimony to the Christian faith. It is still an active parish, after all
these centuries. The building itself is unique, the whole exterior is made of