On Pilgrimage with the Saints: Laurence

The Rev. Canon Laura Howell
Trinity Church, Bethlehem

We don’t know much about St. Laurence (Lawrence) who was a martyr in the first centuries after Christ’s resurrection.  We are not entirely sure if Lawrence is the name of an individual or if his story refers to a number of people. But whether or not he was a historical character, we have much to learn and admire.  Legend has it that he was born in Spain and educated in Zaragoza, a famed Roman center of learning.  He studied under the future Pope Sixtus (257-258 ce), and when his teacher ascended to the papal throne, the Pope took him to Rome, promptly ordained him as a deacon, although he was young.  He was asigned the job of caring for the papal treasuries and distributing alms to the poor.

In 258, the Emperor Valerian began a psersecution of the Christian Church, and in August 258, the Pope was captured while celebrating the liturgy and was executed, along with a number of his colleagues.  Knowing that he, too, would soon be killed, Lawrence worked as quickly as possible to distribute all the church’s money and treasures to the poor and indigent of Rome. Lawrence was summoned to appear before the Prefect of Rome to hand over all the valuables.  Instead, he brought with him many poor, crippled and sick people and responded, “These are the true treasures of the church.”

Lawrence was promptly sent for execution, and legend has it that he was roasted alive on a gridiron.  For this reason, iconography and illustrations of Lawrence often show him with the instrument of his death.  

In a sermon on St. Lawrence, St. Leo the Great wrote, “The flame of Christ’s love could not be overcome by your flames, and the fire which burnt outside was less keen than that which blazed within.” At least in the west, we are rarely called to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel.  On the other hand, we are called, day by day and moment by moment, to LIVE our lives for the sake of the Gospel.  Lawrence’s faithful example of care for the poor and needy should remind us that Jesus said that as we care for them, we care for him.

Almighty God, you called your deacon Laurence to serve you with deeds of love, and gave him the crown of martyrdom: Grant that we, following his example, may fulfill your commandments by defending and supporting the poor, and by loving you with all our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

St. Lawrence (Stowe Missal, 1300's, Norwich)

St. Lawrence (Stowe Missal, 1300’s, Norwich)