This is a picture of a tombstone at the hilltop fortress monastery called the Rock of Cashel. The Rock was a stronghold of Irish royalty and Christianity from the fourth through the eighteenth century, and is now, like most of the history of most countries, relegated to the ignominious position of tourist attraction.
There is a legend about St. Patrick in connection with the Rock of Cashel. Once upon a time, Patrick was conducting a coronation ceremony for a king at the cathedral on the Rock. As part of the ceremony, he pounded his bishop’s staff on the ground (perhaps as many as three times, one for each member of the Trinity). At any rate, he somehow missed the ground and drove his staff into the top of the king’s foot. The king, however, took it like a man, assuming this was some sort of Christian ascetic practice, perhaps reminiscent of the wounds of Christ’s crucifixion. Oops.
Anyway, here’s a prayer attributed to the “Apostle of Ireland.”
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Kinda gutsy, if you think about it. Quite a claim to make for one’s self. Appropriate for a man who got away with impaling a monarch’s foot, but not so much for the rest of us.
“Christ in every eye that sees me?” Hardly. The chances that someone is going to look at me and see something Christ-like going on are actually pretty slim.
“Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me?” Wow. I might make a good first impression, but I doubt that the lasting image I leave in people’s hearts is an icon of Christ.
But in a very real sense, St. Patrick’s adage is true for every Christian always. Not just when we feel like it, not just when we’re acting particularly holy, and not just the two seconds after receiving Holy Communion before we pump out our next sin. Every Christian. Always.
How can this be? “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us.” Jesus, the sinless Lamb of God, was made to be sin in our place. The substitutionary, vicarious death of Christ means, as the rest of the verse says, “that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus becomes our sin, and we receive his righteousness. Romans 6 explains that we who were baptized into Christ are alive to God in Christ. Galatians 3 says it even more clearly: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”
“Put on Christ.” We are clothed with Christ. We wear him like a garment. He covers our life with his. We are “partakers in the divine nature,” as St. Peter writes. We are washed clean from every sin ― not just when we confess and receive absolution, but continually. A friend of mine says that God’s grace isn’t like an occasional bath that washes off accumulated dirt, but like standing in a rainstorm, continually being washed and renewed and refreshed. No dirt sticks to us; “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8).
So whether we preach to the Irish or punch a timecard, whether we drink a pint of Guinness or stab royalty in the foot, Christ is with us, before us, and behind us. Even more importantly, Christ was on the cross for us. He is in the every eye that sees me, and even more importantly, Christ is in God’s eye when he looks at me.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” (Galatians 3)
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!
Coffee-in-hand: Java from Java (thanks, Aaron!)