Today, March 17th, is St. Patrick’s Day around the world. Ironically, there are numerous misconceptions about the date and what it actually celebrates. For starters, in case you were wondering, there really was a St. Patrick. He was born in 385 A.D., presumably in Scotland or western England, according to tradition, and was kidnapped at about the age of 16. He spent about 6 years in captivity, with responsibilities as a shepherd for part of the time.
In what he later described as a vision from God, Patrick was told to head toward the coast where a ship picked him up and returned him home. Following his reunion with his family, he studied for the priesthood, eventually returning to Ireland for the purpose of converting the pagan masses to Christianity.
He spent many years preaching the Gospel in Ireland and and eventually died on March 17, 461 A.D. Patrick is considered the patron saint of Ireland and the anniversary of his death is celebrated around the world. In fact, in some countries, those who have given up liquor and other items for Lent are allowed to take part in the celebrations of the day without fear of having broken their Lenten restrictions.
While most people think the four leaf clover is the symbol of the day, that is pretty much a myth. In fact, St. Patrick’s legacy is celebrated with a three leaf clover, symbolizing the Holy Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – remembering his evangelism throughout Ireland and the conversion of the pagans in the land.
March 17th was first made a feast day in the Catholic Church (and other British churches) in the early 17th century. Eventually, the celebrations spread throughout the world, even including parties and acknowledgment of St. Patrick’s Day in the International Space Station orbiting the earth. While the day is not an official holiday in the USA, there is no doubt that this country knows how to celebrate. In fact, it is thought that the city of Chicago, and its tradition of dyeing the Chicago River green, is the most well known festival tradition in the country; and possibly the world.
Parades, drinking, eating and revelry are benchmarks of the day and it is common for people to wear green making it a unifying idea that everybody can be Irish for a day. But let’s not forget the origins of St. Patrick’s Day – the carrying of God’s word to the nation of Ireland by a dedicated priest who spent years leading people to Christ.
Our verse for tonight is none other than the great commission. Matthew tells us that Jesus commanded his disciples to preach the Gospel to all nations. Matthew recounts to us, in Matthew 28:16-20, “Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This is exactly what St. Patrick did – preaching the Gospel to pagans around the world, with a special emphasis in Ireland. My encouragement this evening is that Jesus wants each of us to be dedicated to spreading the Good News whenever and wherever we have the chance. My prayer is that we can all impact those who have not yet surrendered their lives to God – meeting them where they are and leading them to eternity security. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…