Monday, March 06, 2006

Juxtaposition on Absolution

This is the month of juxtapositions. March’s lion/lamb image lends itself to that, I suppose.

It seemed good to read St. Patrick’s hymn on the first day, so we did. After all, a print of his icon and the words of his hymn were hung near the classroom calendar, so we read the words together.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three.

This hymn is often called St. Patrick’s breastplate, a term that required interpretation for the students. He received his Trinitarian breastplate at Baptism, and reminded himself of it “by invocation of the same.” For this reason he could also joyously proclaim

I bind this day to me for ever,
By power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
His baptism in Jordan river;
His death on cross for my salvation;
His bursting from the spicèd tomb;
His riding up the heavenly way;
His coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
The virtues of the starlit heaven
The glorious sun's life-giving ray,
The whiteness of the moon at even,
The flashing of the lightning free,
The whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
The stable earth, the deep salt sea,
Around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
The power of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, his might to stay,
His ear to hearken, to my need;
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, his shield to ward;
The word of God to give me speech,
His heavenly host to be my guard.

I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
Praise to the Lord of my salvation,
Salvation is of Christ the Lord.

It all worked well. The students enjoyed hearing of Patrick the Saint who taught of the Trinity by using shamrocks because they had three leaflets. They immediately drew the connection between a breastplate and making the sign of the cross.

On the wall opposite where our calendar hangs is a poster of Roman soldiers rushing into battle. On their shields a “chi-rho” is emblazoned. The day following our talk of St. Patrick Jeremiah asked, “Are those men like St. Patrick?” Sean perceived where he was going. “Yeah. That sign is the same one that’s in church.”

Interesting question, for it asks to compare St. Patrick to Constantine. So we did. First I explained what a chi-rho is. Then I explained that Constantine had a dream in which he saw the chi-rho, and was told that he would conquer by that sign. So he put it on his soldiers gear, even the un-baptized ones. Then they went off to war, and Constantine expected to win every battle because he had crafted a chi-rho on his weaponry as a victory sign.

Jeremiah thought for a few minutes. Something wasn’t working out right. As one of the Troublemint Twins, Jeremiah is good at manipulating data- organic or otherwise. One of his favorite pastimes is history. He’ll trade an hour of the Cartoon Network for two of the History Channel. He’s being raised by his grandparents, who have adopted him. His grandfather is a veteran of WW II. A fun day for Jeremiah is to visit Vicksburg and learn more about the war between the “Americans and the Yankees,” as he puts it. Sometimes he gets his facts mixed. He still insists "tiber sharks" come out of the Tiber River near Rome. Other things he has straight. Say “word and water” and Jeremiah immediately shouts "Baptism!"; “bread and wine” will get him to “Body and Blood!” just as quickly.

Right now Jeremiah was perplexed. I could see the wheels spinning and locking into place just looking at him. “If this, then that… then that, then this… then no way can this be that.” We had studied Homer and the fall of Troy in The Children's Homer. The students knew that honor could be found on both sides of the battlefield. They also knew that under the Fourth Commandmentthe state had the right to bear arms against attackers, and that when their parents spanked children it wasn't a transgression of the Fifth Commandment like when they got into a fight with each other. We had just read St. Patrick's hymn, and discussed breastplates as the invocation of Baptism. Therefore, when Jeremiah considered the chi-rho as a shield and defense in battle, he had a lot to think about. I didn't know where his young mind would lead, but eventually...

“That’s not right!” he finally burst out.

“What’s not right?” I asked.

“Baptism is for sins. Not for wars,” he said. “People still die. Not everybody wins wars. But everybody wins in Baptism because Jesus says so.”

The point was simple: Constantine had misapplied how the sign would conquer, and over what. Victory over sin, death, and the devil does not always mean success in battle.

The theme of the movie Titanic comes near the end. After the character Rose has finished her tale of the sinking she says,

Fifteen hundred people went into the sea. When Titanic went under us, there were twenty boats floating nearby and only one came back- one. Six people were saved from the water, myself included- six out of fifteen hundred. Afterward the seven hundred people in the boats had nothing to do but wait... wait to live, wait to die, wait for an absolution that would never come.

Jeremiah knows of no such condition, and neither did Patrick. Constantine, though he eventually issued the Edict of Milan which benefited all of Christendom, did not appreciate- at least not until just before his death- the Gift of Baptism. The mere fact of Christ’s death will not save anyone and does not make anyone Christian any more than slapping a cross on a coffee mug makes the brew inside the cup a sacred drink. The Gifts of Christ (His preaching and His Sacraments) must be delivered so that faith can be created by the Holy Spirit. For those who live as Jeremiah and Patrick, forgiveness from all that this world has to throw their way has already come in Christ, delivered to them in Baptism and recalled anew in each invocation. Absolution continues through a life lived in Baptism, constantly bound by the invocation of the Trinity and receiving the Gifts Gifts of Christ. Christ is our righteousnous, our breastplate (Eph 6:14; 1Thessalonians 5:8). It is His sign we bear in this life, and which carries us into the next. In this sign we conquer, because He first conquered death for us. We are baptized! This is our victory sign!

1 comment:

Bob Waters said...

My grandmother was from the town where Patrick is buried- Downpatrick.

Dunno if Constantine didn't appreciae baptism until death drew near; the misunderstanding persisted in his day that baptism was best delayed until life's end, so it would be effective at death. But thanks for the reminder of the life, ministry, and significance of a saint intrigally involved in my family story and ethnic heritage.