Sermon: Columba

“St Columba Bidding Farewell To The White Horse” / 1925 – John Duncan

Locals were burying a man near a river when a monk came along. The monk inquired as to how the man died and was told that he had been attacked by a creature and dragged under the waters. Later, a companion of the monk was swimming in the same river when a large creature approached him. The monk seeing this, made the sign of the cross over the creature and cried out, “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.” The creature obeyed. We know the monk as St. Columba (b.521), the river as Loch Ness, and the creature… yep… the Loch Ness monster. This was the first written account of someone spotting the now legendary creature. True or false? I’ll let you decide.

Columba is highly revered, although I’m guessing that he may have been difficult to live with, especially in his early years. One of his biographers writes, “Of all qualities, gentleness was precisely the one in which Columba failed the most.” He was responsible for a battle that cost 3,000 lives, he got into a legal battle over the copyrighting of the Psalms, and he was required to go into exile. However, that exile landed him and twelve companions on the shores of small island, Iona, which would become one of the most powerful monasteries in existence. Given his growing reputation (dramatically improving by this point), Columba would not only be the Abbot over the monks of the monastery, but he also had authority over the Bishops of Scotland, even though he was only a priest.

There is much to learn about Columba and the monastery at Iona, but as I was reading on him this week, I just kept coming back to the legends, which—whether true or not—probably speak a great deal about the real Columba, so… one more.

In the year 597, Columba was seventy-seven years old. During the Easter season of that year, he felt that he was near death, but did not want to die during Easter so as to grieve his fellow monks during such a festive time. Later that year, when he knew his time was imminent, he went to say goodbye to some who worked in the fields, but because he was so tired, he was unable to walk and was therefore carried in a cart.

He spent time with the monks and blessed them and after awhile began the journey home, but he became so weary that he was required to stop along the way. It was then that his favorite horse, a white one, came galloping up to Columba and placed his head on Columba’s chest and shedding tears, as if aware of his friends nearing death. Columba’s companion tried to shew the horse along, but Columba said to him, “Allow this lover of mine to shed his tears on my chest. For this horse, being an animal, understood instinctively that I was going to be with my Lord, yet you as a man could not foretell this.”

Columba returned to the monastery that day, but died in the chapel, shortly before the night prayers began.

When the seventy disciples retuned, Jesus said to them, “Do not rejoice… that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Columba was not without his faults—the same holds true for all of us—but we can give thanks that his name was written in heaven and that he kept the faith alive and assisted in it prospering in Scotland, which in turn, helped restore Christianity following the Dark Ages.

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