Aidan: Coming from the “holy island”

This is St. Aidan’s day. He came from his comfortable, focused community on the island of Iona to serve in Northumbria in 635. He developed the new community based on Lindisfarne, the mystical island that came to be known as the Holy Island. He lead them into a long, productive ministry of church planting. When I visited Lindisfarne last summer, I saw his name on the wall, first on a list, on the roll of bishops in the old island church.

Aidan is a good example for us, since we are an island, ourselves, offering an alternative to the people of our age. And it will take a long time and a long obedience to make a lasting difference.

As a result of the infighting of the royal families in Northumbria, Prince Oswald had been exiled and lived with Aidan’s community on the island of Iona, off Scotland. He became a passionate Christian there. Oswald’s name came up in the line of succession and he returned to Northumbria as king.

The new king brought a leader with him from Iona to install as his bishop. The man was hard and demanding. No one would listen to him. He ended up returning to Iona defeated and resentful. When Aidan heard the story of his failed mission, he was moved. He asked him why he did not feed the people the truth like feeding milk to a baby.

The community sent Aidan to Oswald, even though he could not speak the language of Northumbria. Oswald installed him on Lindisfarne, which came to be known and is still named on the road map today, as the Holy Island. Aidan’s first forays into the neighboring territory found him accompanied by the king, who interpreted for him. The passion and humility of both leaders had a huge impact.

Today, as I honor the memory of Aidan, I am longing to live with a missional community coming from their Holy Island. Lindisfarne has the unique character of being an island for only part of the day, when the tide is in. The rest of the time you can walk to it. It is a good symbol for people who want to make a huge impact, like we do. We must live on an “island,” in that we nurture our relationship with God and His people and feel our dignity as ones called out and set apart; being God’s people is our only hope and our great strength.  But we must not stay on our “island.” There is a rhythm to life in Christ that is as natural and cleansing as the tide. We must spend half the day, at least, accessible to the mainland and crossing over to create new islands of grace.

So many believers I know live on the mainland and visit the island.  They love the idea of the Holy Island, but they just vacation there. They even love the vacation. But they have not bought property. They haven’t settled there. As a result, they don’t even know the tide schedule. They can end up living so far away that they find life in Christ to be a memory.

In honor of Aidan, I want to walk with humility among the hungry people of Philadelphia. I will need an interpreter, since I am like an alien to a lot of them — I will rely on my King.  If I say or do something wrong, I know he will find another way to express his grace. If I successfully share the limited grace I am carrying, I know he will make more of it than I might expect. If I continue to contribute to building something of a Holy Island of our own, I hope it makes a lasting impact, as well.

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