St. Alphege and the Good Shepherds of Boston

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Readings for the Feast Day of St. Alphege

Today, the Episcopal Church honors St. Alphege, who served as the Archbishop of Canterbury back in the early 11th century. Sometimes called Elphege, Alfege or even Godwin (don’t ask me how Alphege becomes Godwin), this archbishop practiced non-violent resistance against the terrorists of his day: the Vikings. Through peaceful negotiation and diplomatic dialogue, Alphege inspired one of the most violent Viking raiders (Olaf Tryggvason—what a name!) to convert to Christianity, sign a peace treaty and promise to never raid the English people again. However, some of Vikings did not respond so kindly to the archbishop’s invitation to peace…

When a gang of Danes raided England, the archbishop’s thanes begged him to escape, but he replied to their pleas by reminding them of Jesus’ words: “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” And then he did just that. As the Danes were about to slaughter a community of English poor, Alphege stood between the Vikings and their victims and cried out:

“Spare these innocent people! If you need to unleash your violence, do it to me. Take me instead!”

So the Vikings decided to capture Alphege and hold him for ransom. When Alphege ordered the already-poor English people not to pay the costly ransom, the Vikings grew angry and started hurling bones at Alphege until he was injured to the point of death. Eventually, someone put him out of his physical misery by hitting him on the head with the butt of an axe.

We remember this story today not to glorify the violence but to honor the one who gave himself completely over to his people like a good shepherd, who lays down her life for her sheep. The self-giving of St. Alphege helps us to recognize the courageous acts of self-giving that took place in Boston earlier this week, in the face of terror. Many of the Boston marathon runners, running in memory of the Newtown victims, were severely injured by the explosions, so much that they will never be able to run again. And some of the runners, who crossed the finish line, kept running to the Massachusetts General Hospital to give their blood to the victims. These people, along with hundreds of others who risked their lives to help those injured, embodied the “good shepherd” the way St. Alphege did. These are the people who should be remembered and honored. And these are the people that I honor today along with St. Alphege for embodying hope and courage in the midst of horror and for showing us what the good shepherd looks like when the sheep are attacked by wolves. They give me hope in humanity and inspire me to pattern myself on the Good Shepherd.

From the Gospel reading for St. Alphege’s Feast Day:

Jesus said, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more…” (Luke 12:4)

A Prayer for Boston:

“We thank You, O Lord, for first responders, trained and volunteer, for emergency rooms and surgeons and nurses committed to save life. We thank You that so few died in this recent attack and pray your deepest consolation for those who suffered ghastly injuries and the death of family members.

Remind us that Your divine image lives within each of us and help us to claim that identify for ourselves even as we seek it in those whom we call enemy.

Most of all, O Good and Loving Lord, we thank You for Jesus Christ, shepherd of the flock. May we hear his voice clearly, be led beside the still waters, and learn how — in the face of evil — to practice what it means to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. Amen.”

(prayer from Rev. Creede Hinshaw)

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