The priest rose early each morning.
His head bowed as light shone through the window. His first words of the day breaking the previous night’s silence.
“Open my lips, O Lord and my mouth shall show forth thy praise. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit as it was in the beginning is now and will be forever.”
Amphibalus, a Christian priest, had arrived at Alban’s home desperately looking for a place to hide. Because of a new tyrannical edict, the faithful were once again under persecution from the Roman emperor. But, this danger did not sway the priest from his prayers and piety. Quite the opposite, in the face of danger he prayed with devotion and fervor.
Alban observed this morning ritual, and the similar rituals repeated throughout the day.
This devotion did not make sense. This devotion was dangerous.
“Why take the risk?”
Alban knew very little about Christians and their practices. But he did know that the laws prohibited adherence to this new strange “non Roman” religion. Fear welled inside him. Had he made a terrible mistake, one that would cost him his own life?
Day after day continuous prayers and devotion rose from the priest’s lips – prayers for safety,
Prayers for his flock,
Prayers of thanksgiving for his hiding place and the man who was saving his life.
Prayers for friends and enemies alike.
Prayers for those who would torture and kill him for his faith.
The chanting of Psalms filled Alban’s home rising and hovering in the air like incense.
“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall ever by in my mouth”
With each prayer, with each psalm, with each witness to a life beautifully lived for Christ, Alban’s feelings of fear and self preservation melted and transformed into something new and profound.
A holy friendship blossomed between the two.
It was this friendship that led Alban to Christ. From a run away priest, who would no doubt be arrested and tortured for following Jesus, Alban found the path of liberation.
Love, unwavering, unfaltering, love.
Alban converted to Christianity.
The rest of the story continues from this conversion experience. The Roman police eventually hunt down Amphibalus the priest, but when they came to arrest him, Alban switched clothes with him and the magistrates took Alban into custody allowing Amphibalus to escape.
Alban was brought before the magistrate. After refusing to renounce his new faith, in an attempt to intimidate him, Alban was questioned about his family or origin.
“What is your family’s name?”
The saint refused to answer and instead responded
“I am called Alban, and I worship and adore the true and living God.”
He was beheaded in Verulamium and became Britains first saint and first martyr.
Alban died at the hands of Rome, but died for the sake of loving the friend who led him to the love of God.
We honor martyrs, a word which means “witness” in Greek, and we focus on their death being the pinnacle of their sainthood. Alban’s witness and dying is certainly important, because like all martyrs it points us to the ultimate “witness of love” that Christ made on the cross.
Perhaps the other aspect of witness that we should hold as our example to follow is the shared witness between Amphibalus and Alban. The two bear witness to a love that unites us both to God and one another.
It is this deep bond of friendship, that forges and unites the Church’s members.
This is a fitting example to follow on our parish’s anniversary.
This same love has been poured into our beloved St. Alban’s Church, and it held us together and formed us over the past 100 years.
When we stop to consider the friendship found between our members in generations present and generations past, when we marvel at the friendships that have been formed with God in this parish, we cannot help but celebrate.
Like Alban, we still live in a world that does not understand this type of love. We live in a world in which state sanctioned persecution still exists, we live in a world that still seeks to destroy and hate.
Yet, as Alban shows us, and ultimately Christ showed us in his death and resurrection, love cannot be destroyed.
Our friendship, our bonding together into Christ’s body is a living sign, a witness, that nothing but life awaits us. “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another.” – 1 John 3:3-16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
When we consider this, when we proclaim, embody and practice it, we find that our lives, like the life of Christ, become a living and holy sacrament. A sign of grace – an unmerited, undeserved gift of love.
Perhaps this is the biggest witness the church has to offer the world – signs of grace-filled friendship. We have the opportunity to be a community that does not operate as the world operates. Laying down one’s own self interest out of love for another, loving God and loving neighbor as self, stands is opposition to cultures and power structures that divide, tear apart, and hate.
In the midst of desolation and separation, we are called to practice consolation and unity, which draw people together and towards God.
And so, examples such as Alban, and the martyrs, witnesses, are important to follow.
But witnessing has another element beyond being an example. It also entails identifying where God’s grace is present in our own lives and communities and sharing it.
On our 100th anniversary we have hundreds of examples of this grace.
We can look at those sitting next to us in the church here today and see God’s grace in our relationships with one another. Friendships formed the bonds that hold us together as Church.
Where have you experienced this grace in your own life, in our parish?
I think of our first parishioners, friends who gathered to pray together in their homes.
I’m reminded of our past ministries – sponsoring refugees during world war two, ensuring children in Bexley received instruction in their faith, helping to plant two neighboring parishes so that our circle of Christian friendship might grow to include others.
Most recently it’s important to bear witness to the grace that abounded during COVID. Friendships were formed among strangers. Doors were opened to allow school children to learn in our education building when schools were closed. Food was prepared to feed the hungry, our Turkey Trot went virtual to support crucial ministries and social services in Columbus.
These, and countless other ministries testify and bear witness on our behalf. Our love for one another bears witness. We need not fear, we do not need to bend to the ways of a broken world. “We are called St. Alban’s Church, a community called together in bonds of holy friendship. We worship and adore the true and living God.”
Because of this, we can rejoice! Today we rejoice with one another for the grace that has carried us 100 years in ministry. We rejoice with one another for the grace that will carry us forward.
Today, may our rejoicing and celebratio also be witness to God’s great love a love that lasts far more than a century. Love that lasts for an eternity and sets us free to “open our lips in praise and serve the living God.”
Please join me in a prayer for our church.
Open our lips O Lord and our mouth shall show forth your praise. To a hurting world, open our lips to speak words of comfort. In a beloved world, open our lips to sing songs of gratitude. To a world suffering with loneliness and disconnect, open our lips to preach unity.
O Lord our God, open also our hearts. Do not let our praise contain only words. Empower us to serve.
To a hurting world, open our hands to be the hands of Christ – hands that heal, hold and soothe. To a beloved world, open our doors and fill our church with celebration and rejoicing!
To a world suffering with disconnect, open our arms to embrace and draw us together in your love.
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit! As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever!