Use this information in a Children’s sermon or for a youth acitivity for St. Patrick’s day. The significance of St Patrick’s day is not in the traditions associated with it today, but in its remembrance of forgiving teenager who was sold into slavery and escaped only to return to the country where he had been a slave, in order to bring the people there to the love of Christ.
Bring in a large three leafed clover (Shamrock) or clover stickers for each of the children. You might also wear something green, or even let the children have a taste of some traditional Irish food like corned beef and cabbage. NOTE: Cabbage was traditionally served with Irish bacon, instead of corned beef. Corned beef is apparently an Irish American tradition started at the turn of the century because families could not afford Irish Bacon.
St Patrick’s Day is March 17, on the day of his death, and has been traditionally associated with all things Irish and a lucky clover. At some point Leprechaun’s and rainbows with a pot of gold at the end somehow were included in the mythology. Like many holidays, St. Patrick’s day began as a religious holiday to commemorate his death, but the original purpose and traditions have been replaced with something almost entirely unconnected to the original celebration. Many of the details of his life are disputed, but we can be certain that he did preach to the unsaved in Ireland and placed a major role in the evangelization of a very large number of people.
Let’s first look at some of the common ideas about St. Patrick’s Day and then look at some teaching points we could associate with each.
St. Patrick’s Day is correctly associated with Ireland, but St. Patrick himself was not Irish, but British. He might not have even been officially declared a saint. Even so, historians believe he was born around 389 AD near Wales and given the name of Maewyn Succat. Like Daniel and Joseph of the Bible, he was captured and sold into slavery when he was only teenager (16 years old). Life was difficult for slaves. Not only was life difficult, but he was dragged from his home and sent into slavery in another country without his family. Tradition says that as a slave in Ireland he was forced to be a shepherd, herding sheep and pigs. His father had been a church deacon, and his grandfather a clergyman, but by his account Maewyn only turned to religion and prayed out to God when he was in captivity. After six years as a slave he escaped by boat to Britain. He traveled the 200 miles to the ocean and according to some stories either stowed away or booked passage. The boat landed not far from where his parents lived, and one would expect a joyful reunion and for him to remain with his parents. But instead of staying with his family, he traveled to France to study and become a priest. While studying for ministry, he received a vision from God to return to Ireland as a missionary. He only took the name Patrick when he later became a Bishop. It was a great act of forgiveness that he returned to the people who enslaved him in order to share with them the love of Christ. Because of his ministry in Ireland he brought not only Christianity to the whole country, but also an end to slavery. In the same way, through God’s forgiveness and sending of Christ to us we also experience his love and are delivered from our slavery to sin.
If you were captured and put into slavery as a teenager, do you think you might feel called to return to those who enslaved you and work for the salvation of their souls? Is forgiveness easy or difficult? Why is forgiveness an important concept to Christians?
Four Leaf Clover
A four-leaf clover is said to be good luck, but in a tradition written 1000 years after St. Patrick’s death, a three-leafed shamrock was originally associated with St. Patrick’s day. This is because St. Patrick supposedly used a similar plant to explain the idea of the Trinity. He explained that like a three leafed shamrock, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit could exist as three parts of a single entity. Forever associated with this simple illustration, the Irish adopted the custom of wearing a shamrock on St. Patrick’s day in their celebrations and feasts.
1 John 5:7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
A Pot of Gold at the End of a Rainbow
When you see a rainbow associated with St. Patrick’s Day, it is because there is supposed to be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. According to Irish fairy tales the pot of gold is guarded by a Leprechaun – a short little old man, who lived alone and worked as a shoemaker. You could supposedly find him by the sound of his hammer as he made shoes, and if you managed to catch him you could force him to reveal the location of his treasure of Gold. But leprechauns were clever and if he tricked you to take your eyes off him for even a second he vanished.
The rainbow in the Bible doesn’t lead us to a pot of Gold, but was intended to lead us to God. For the Christian, our “Pot of Gold” lies in heaven, in eternity with God because of Jesus. Earthly treasures are fleeting and incomparable to the joy of knowing Christ. (Ecclesiastes 5:19-20; Matthew 6:19-21) We can find the original significance of the rainbow in Genesis 9:12-14 “And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh.”
“Luck of the Irish” is a common saying. Patrick tells how his life was at risk, and how he was sometimes imprisoned by the local pagan chiefs. But it wasn’t luck that carried him through, but God. (And maybe some of the gifts he supposedly gave to the chiefs.)
Biblically it is not luck that determines our lives, but God. It is not luck that brings us blessings, but God. And those blessings might be here on earth or in the next life. Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” So God works things, good and bad, for his purpose.
St Patrick drives the snakes out of Ireland
One tradition says that St. Patrick preached a sermon from a hilltop that drove all the snakes from Ireland. It’s highly unlikely there ever were any snakes in Ireland after the last ice age. Being cold blooded reptiles, they would not have survived the cold. But the tradition is more likely to refer to the snake, not as a creature, but as a symbol of evil. In that sense it may refer to his bringing of Christianity to Ireland and his life’s mission to get rid of pagan influences in the country. The tradition might also be related to his lighting of a fire on the hill of Signe on the Eve of Easter to challenge a pagan ritual that forbid the lighting of any fires until the king’s fire had been started first.
St. Patrick was quite successful at evangelism and traveled the length of Ireland setting up schools, churches and monasteries. In response, the Celtic druids apparently managed to stir up enough trouble to get him arrested several times. Each time he escaped, and after 30 years he was quite instrumental in converting much of Ireland to Christianity.
MORE IDEAS? See “Creative Object Lessons”
200 page e-book that explains everything you need to know when planning your very own object lessons. It contains 90 fully developed object lesson ideas and another 200 object lesson starter ideas based on Biblical idioms and Names / Descriptions of God.
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