March 1 was the first Sunday of Lent, but it was also the commemoration of St. David, the patron saint of Wales. Wisconsin has a proud Welsh community, including a Welsh settlement here in the Oshkosh area. My parish hosted a Gymanfa ganu, a hymn-sing, organized by the Welsh Gymanfa Ganu Association of Wisconsin. A gymanfa features Welsh hymns (mostly sung in English, but there were a few verses that we tackled in Welsh), followed by a reception and fellowship. I was invited to offer an opening devotion and a closing benediction.
The devotion, a story of St. David’s life
There was once a woman, named Non, who became a saint. She gave birth to a saint, as well. This was in the late 5th century, when the Romans had left Britain, and just as the Angles and Saxons and Jutes were arriving in the East. The story is that a local king forced himself upon Non, and she became pregnant. While she was pregnant, a local preacher found that he could not preach in her presence, and the word spread that the child she carried would become a great preacher.
A local ruler, I do not know if it was the king who fathered the child, but there were many little kings then, and there was too much evil then as now — a local ruler set out to kill the child as soon as his was born, but on the night that Non began her labor pains, a storm blew up, and the ruler could not make it.
And so was born David, to Non, a saint, who was born to a saint. Non lived the rest of her days on bread and water, in Ty Gwyn near Whitesands Bay.
David became a monk, the founder of a monastery near the old Roman town of Menevia. He was a good monk, and he eventually founded, or restored, 11 more monasteries. Like his mother, he lived a life of austerity, and so did his monks. Instead of using oxen, he made the brothers pull the plow by hand. His monks tried to poison him once, but he was warned by another monk who was visiting from Ireland, and so he blessed the food and he did not die.
In time, he traveled to the Holy Land and was made a bishop. But bishops back then were often monastics, and they would live in their monasteries. But he made a mistake, my friends. He found himself at a meeting, and he found himself speaking out against a pernicious heresy called Pelagianism.
This was his great mistake, for he was so eloquent, so convincing, so forceful a speaker that miraculously, a dove landed on his shoulder, and a small hill rose up under his feet, which allowed the people to see and hear him well. It was a miracle from God. Whether the southwest corner of Wales needed another hill is another topic, but the Lord does what the Lord does.
I said that this was a mistake, and it was, for so great was his speech that the other bishops made him Archbishop, and David became the foremost bishop in the whole land of Wales! His duties to the church made it hard for him to live the life of prayer that he desired.
He was devoted, and dutiful, and the faith flourished under his guidance. He eventually was able to enter a kind of retirement back in his first monastery, in Menevia, which is now the tiny city of St. David’s, named after the man himself of course. An angel appeared one day and told him that a week later, on the 1st day of March, the Lord would bring him home.
And so it happened, at morning prayer on the 1st day of March, the book of Rhygyvarch tells us that the angel appeared while David and the brothers were praying. ”Take me,” said David, “after thee.” With these words he gave back his life to God, Christ being his companion, and accompanied by the angelic host he went to the abodes of Heaven.
And that is how he died, that great and holy man.
Almighty God, who called your servant David to be a faithful and wise steward of your mysteries for the people of Wales: Mercifully grant that, following his purity of life and zeal for the Gospel of Christ, we may, with him, praise you both here on earth and also in your everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The benediction at the end
Father of all, we ask for your blessing to be upon the Welsh people, and upon the green hills and valleys of Wales. Bring peace, prosperity, and harmony between all the peoples of the British Isles, and heal their ancient divisions. We ask for your blessing to be upon people of Welsh descent, wherever they may be around the world, and upon all immigrants who have left their homelands for a better life. And let your blessing be upon us who have gathered here today to sing your praises. Grant, O Lord, that what we have sung with our lips, we may believe in our hearts, and what we believe in our hearts we may show forth in our lives, and all to your honor and glory, and for the wellbeing of your creation. Amen.