Today is the day in the liturgical calendar when we honor two Celtic saints: Aidan and Cuthbert.
These two men both figure prominently with the location we will be in next weekend, Lindisfarne or the Holy Isle.
Christianity first came to northern England when King Edmund of Northumbria was converted in about 627, about 200 years later than the neighboring island of Ireland or the southern part of England. When Edmund died in battle, the pagans regained the upper hand until Edmund’s nephew, Oswald, restored the kingdom to the Christian faith. Oswald had lived at the monastery in Iona so he sent to that monastery for teachers and evangelists.
The first man to arrive, Corman, goes down in history as the type of pastor/evangelist who doesn’t really like his flock, much less love them as Jesus commanded. He declared the Northumbrians to be wild and unresponsive to the Gospel. A young monk, Aidan, dared to suggest that perhaps Corman should have been a bit more gentle and loving himself. And as so often happens when someone dares to speak up in the church with an alternate viewpoint, Aidan was given the task to follow up where Corman had failed.
Aidan traveled to Northumbria and founded a monastery on Lindisfarne, or the Holy Isle. He then traveled throughout the northern part of England, down into the midlands of England, even to London. As the Venerable Bede, a contemporary historian, wrote of Aidan: “He neither sought nor loved anything of this world, but delighted in distributing immediately to the poor whatever was given him by kings or rich men of the world. He traversed both town and country on foot, never on horseback, unless compelled by some urgent necessity. Wherever on his way he saw any, either rich or poor, he invited them, if pagans, to embrace the mystery of the faith; or if they were believers, he sought to strengthen them in their faith and stir them up by words and actions to alms and good works.”
I love the story of Aidan. Sometimes people don’t respond to the good news of Jesus, not because of the offense of the Gospel, but because of the offense of the messenger. In the same places where Corman pronounced the people wild and impossible to evangelize, Aidan got down off his high horse (literally) and taught and gave to all, both rich and poor.
Next week we’ll see the little island (off Holy Isle) where Cuthbert lived his final days as a hermit.