(Pair of Tag Team Wrestling championship belts, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Readings for the feast day of Aidan and Cuthbert, August 31, 2018:
True confession: When I was a kid, even though I knew from about age 9 or 10 wrestling on TV was more entertainment than sport, I used to love tag-team matches. There was just something about the drama with being prevented from reaching your teammate’s hand, and the excitement once the two of them swapped places in the ring, that kept me glued to it all.
One might say that Aidan and Cuthbert were a great tag team, even though their lifespans only overlapped for a spell. Aidan was the older of the two. (We are not sure of the date of his birth, but we do know he died in 651.) During Adan’s lifetime, Christianity had lost its foothold on Britain and the practice of Anglo-Saxon pagan religions had become the norm. Aidan brought Christianity back to Lindisfarne, not by conquering force, as the Anglo-Saxons had done, but by wandering from village to village, slowly building relationships and in the process, converting people one by one. He established a monastery and taught his monks this same process.
In 651, on one of his travels, Aidan fell ill while resting against the wall of a church, and died. It was almost as if he was reaching out his hand for a tag.
Meanwhile, somewhere out in the fields of the Northumbria countryside, a shepherd named Cuthbert was out with his flock. In a manner reminiscent of the shepherds at the time of Jesus’ birth, Cuthbert saw some strange lights in the night sky that he interpreted as angels escorting someone to heaven. He found out a few days later that Aidan of Lindisfarne had died, and, in retrospect, he believed what he saw was Aidan joining the heavenly throng. It was enough for Cuthbert to have felt the “tag.”
Cuthbert’s vision led him to the monastic life, first at Melrose Abbey and later returning to Lindisfarne to be prior of the monastery there. Like Aidan, he wandered throughout the countryside in a similar gentle fashion, and Christianity continued to grow and thrive in the region.
The story of these two gentle evangelists reminds us that the work of God doesn’t necessarily all happen in our lifetime. We don’t always get to live to see the results. Aidan died without knowing how fully Christianity came to Lindisfarne. Generations of African-Americans lived and died before civil rights became the law of the land. Many brave women went to their grave, hoping someday that they would cast a vote for President, but never saw the day. Justice is always too slow coming.
Yet, once in a while, we simply happen to be living in the time that something good happens. I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I first heard that same-sex marriage would become the law of the land. The person I was riding in the car with, and I, whooped and hollered and high fived–and then we both sheepishly admitted neither of us, deep in our hearts, really expected to live to see that day. We both, in our own separate lives, figured we’d go to our graves waiting on it. I wondered if that’s how people felt in all those other milestones of civil rights. Was it just something many of us held in our hearts and never told others?
As I continued to reflect on it all, I realized that the arc of justice depends on tag-teaming. When following Jesus takes us to the margins of society and the move to change the injustices in it, and we feel ourselves becoming weary, or beaten down, or simply at the end of our days, it becomes our duty to put out our hand and let someone tag it. If we hold it all in, it will simply accompany us to the grave.
Likewise, while we are still vibrant, living beings in this dynamic world, it behooves us to keep an eye out for outstretched hands–and when we see them, we need to grasp them and tell the other person, “I will carry this forward for you.” It’s a practice that started with Jesus’ outstretched hands on the cross, whose resurrection and ascension led his disciples to move forward. They put out their hands, and on and on it has traveled–one hand at a time.
Where are the places in the world where you need to stretch out your hand and reveal the hope you’ve kept inside? Where are the outstretched hands begging for your touch, to carry hope forward?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri . She presently serves as Interim Assistant Priest at two churches, Church of the Good Shepherd in Town and Country, MO, and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Manchester, MO, as they explore a shared ministry model.