This Friday, March 17th, is St. Patrick’s Day, which makes it one of my favorite days of the year. Unfortunately, there is (generally speaking) so little explored in the way of spiritual themes around this holiday considering how it is named after a Christian saint. Even if someone, like myself, does not favor the Roman Catholic view on saints, there are so many important teachings that we can appreciate around this time of year and one of them is centered around John 8:12 where Jesus was speaking to the people in the temple and he told them, “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” More on that in a moment.

First, if you know much about Patrick, you will remember that he was, in fact, English and that, when he was only 16 years old, he was kidnapped by pirates. You didn’t remember that from history class!? These pirates brought him for the first time to Ireland as a slave.

He returned to England later on but found himself drawn back to Ireland because of his love of the pagan people there and he chose to make his way back to tell them about the love that God had for them. In Ireland in those days, there was a king who practiced a variety of pagan rituals. One of which was a feast that celebrated some of their other really terrible rituals and ended with a human sacrifice. There was so much pride taken in this practice that the king decreed no one in the whole of Ireland could light a fire on that night because he wanted his hellish bonfire to be the only one seen. This massive fire’s light was meant to point to his greatness.

This critical night, very interestingly, fell on the same day as Easter that year, during which Patrick would light a bonfire to celebrate Christ’s light shining through the darkness. When the king saw the fire, he sent his people to “investigate” and by some miracle, the king allowed Patrick and his friends to live and spread the Gospel throughout Ireland for the very first time. Isn’t that fascinating?

Back to our passage. In John 8:12, Jesus is speaking to a mixed crowd of the curious and the combative. He had just forgiven a woman caught in adultery when the religious leaders wanted her killed (John 8:2-11), though they coincidentally lost track of the man she was caught with. This forgiveness is a power-move. Only God can forgive sins like these, so what was He saying?

He continued to teach the people and told them that He was the light of the world, which seems to be a call-back to Isaiah 9:2 where the birth and reign of the Prince of Peace takes shape. It says that “the people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” John 8:12 again – “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” You see? We live in a broken world where our attempts at finding meaning without God make us like the blind, groping through the darkness. And you just imagine the searing light that makes its way through our tightened eyelids for the very first time and instead of pain, we experience life that we never knew could be possible. Jesus Christ is the light who shines on all of us who walk in darkness and when we choose to follow Him, we will never walk in the darkness again, but will have the light of life!

Saint Patrick’s story is a beautiful one. This week, we reflect on that night when two fires burned. Even while one fire burned for a human king where a life was sacrificed to celebrate sin and death, another fire shone through the dark for the King of kings who gave His own life to defeat sin and death for us.  The glory of one King burned brighter. May we all celebrate this Friday that there is a good King whose light will never be extinguished and that His desire is for us to be reconciled with our Maker!

Love you all,

Young Adult Minister – Evan McNeff

When Easter Fires Burned in Medieval Ireland

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