Scripture Passage: Luke 3:21-22a
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove.
What does it mean for the heavens to open, to somehow, whether literally or figuratively, come pouring into the earth? When you read that, it’s a little hard to go back to the notion of the separation of the secular and the sacred. No longer is God or whatever you think of heaven “out there”. In some incredible, wonderful way, the Holy and the Sacred has poured into where we are. All is sacred.
On this day when all who are Irish and all who become Irish for this day celebrate the feast day of St. Patrick, I thought we’d go back and visit his roots a little bit. As his story goes, he was born Maewyn Succat in Roman Britain in the late 4th century. Captured by Irish raiders when he was sixteen, he lived as a slave in Ireland for six years before escaping. He would later return to Ireland as a missionary until his death in 460 or 461 and by the 8th century would become the land’s patron saint. St. Patrick is, of course, associated with what we describe as Celtic Christianity. This is a branch of Christianity that was unique to these Irish people during the Early Middle Ages. The Celtic Christians unapologetically embraced their Celtic and Druid roots and articulated them through their new Christian lenses, even making some of their Druid gods and goddesses Christian saints. We’re not completely sure how these Christians even got to Ireland but they were firmly established there by the 2nd century. One view is that the Galatian Christians to whom Paul wrote (the Galts) were part of those who then migrated to what is now Wales, Ireland, and Scotland after the Roman invasion and occupation.
Celtic Christianity always has had a sense of pilgrimage, of journeying. They were always, as Deborah Cronin describes it, “a bit on the edge”. I think that would describe their physical location as well as their religious belief system. But I also think it is where they are spiritually. You see, the Celtic understanding is that all things are sacred. Just as the Scripture implies, they had this strong sense that the spiritual world does indeed spill into the material world. They embrace the image as a “thin place”, a place and time where time matters not and the spirit world is very close, a place where one can almost feel it, almost reach out and touch what is holy and sacred. These thin places, thresholds between what is and what will be, are crossing places between the world and the Divine. They are embraced as places of growth, as places through which we journey from one place to another, one way of seeing to another, one way of being to another. So what we think of as ordinary places become sacred and holy as the sacred spills through them onto us. Bridges, gateways, and causeways reconnect what is divided and make them accessible to each other. Burial grounds mark the crossing place from life to death, from “this world” to an “other world”, from time and space to eternity and infinity. And the rainbow? If you remember, the ninth chapter of Genesis says that God set a bow in the clouds, a sign of the connection, the covenant, between God and the earth.
It is a symbol of the promise that the Sacred and the Holy is not inaccessible or removed from us but has spilled into the earth. Never again can we become separated or isolated; never again can we close ourselves off and not move forward.
And for us? We are always standing at the edge of the rainbow, the edge of the Sacred and the Holy. God is in our midst and everything is Sacred. The mundane and the ordinary is marked by God’s fingerprints and have become extraordinary. This Lenten season is a journey of transformation. We are moving from one way of being to another, from that mountaintop to Jerusalem, from life to death and life beyond. And along the way are thresholds that we traverse. We are always at the edge of the rainbow. We just have to open ourselves to the sacredness that everything holds. God is in our midst. Heaven has opened and has spilled into the earth. Everywhere we walk is holy ground.
God rejoiced to see [God’s] Dream reborn. [God] desired to mark this moment eternally, as a sign to all creation that hope is more real and permanent than despair. [God] shone [this] perfect , invisible light–the light of joy–through all the tears that would ever flow out of human grief and suffering. That invisible light was broken down, through our tears, into all the colours of the rainbow. And God stretched the rainbow across the heavens, so that we might never forget the promise that holds all creation in being. This is the promise that life and joy are the permanent reality, like the blue of the sky, and that all the roadblocks we encounter are like the clouds–black and threatening perhaps, but never the final word. Because the final word is always “Yes”! (Margaret Silf, in Sacred Spaces: Stations on a Celtic Way)
On this Lenten journey, look around. What holiness do you see? Where do you see God in your midst?
Rath De ‘ort (Gaelic, pronounced Rah Day urt, “The Grace of God on you.”)