As a child I would search the clover tufts hoping to find a single four-leaf clover. Many times I started by making a wreath from the clover flowers. Then, with my golden hair ringed with a flowery crown, I would search for hours for the elusive four-leaf clover. Only once did I find one. I rose victorious from the clover, crowned with flowers, treasure in hand, rejoicing over my find.
Four leaf clover make up only 0.01% of clover. Perhaps that is why people associate them with luck.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day and we will be seeing a lot of three- and four-leaf clover displayed. I know St. Patrick’s day is currently a celebration of Irish heritage, but it started, like most holidays, as a religious festival.
The story of Patrick is an interesting one. According to his retelling of his life in Confessions of St. Patrick, he came from a wealthy family who served as leaders in the church, but he had little interest in Christianity. As a teen he was kidnapped by some Irish slave traders and spent several years as a slave, tending sheep among the lonely crags and knolls of Ireland. He had a dream in which he says God told him to escape to the coast – which he did – and he was transported back to Britain on a pirate ship. He was reunited with his family, studied to become a priest, and returned to Ireland with the gospel of Christ. He spent nearly thirty years as a missionary in Ireland, suffering persecution from the Irish as well as censure from the British church. The day of his death is now celebrated as St. Patrick’s Day – or, more properly, the Day of the Feast of St. Patrick.
According to Christian lore, Patrick used a three-leaf clover to explain the trinity. There are problems with the analogy, to be sure. All analogies break down at some point. But shamrocks are connected with St. Patrick’s Day because of this tradition.
The “wearing of the green” historically meant wearing such a clover pinned to your shirt in memory of this humble missionary. Captured by Christ, freed from slavery on the hillside and slavery to sin, he retuned with a message of hope for his captors, grace for those who had enslaved him.
I love how he took a part of creation – the clover – and used it to simplify a difficult concept. The trinity is far from simple. I love to ponder it, though. I mean really think about the unique personalities of the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. And the communion – can you imagine it? It was perfect, with no conflict or dissension. In spite of the diversity, there was unity.
Until the cross.
Then that communion was rent like the curtain in the temple. In some way I cannot understand completely, the perfect communion was disrupted for what seemed like an eternity, but was only an instant in history.
I am overwhelmed when I think about the agony felt by each person: the Father turning his face away from his beloved Son who was crushed by the weight of my sin as he gave up his Spirit and died. Separation for the first time from eternity past to that very moment. And a separation which will never happen again.
In Christ’s obedience, he suffered more than the excruciating pain of physical death on a cross. He bore a broken relationship with the Father and the Spirit. They unanimously chose to create man in their own image and invite him into relationship with them. They unanimously chose to suffer the consequences of man’s sin to invite him into a relationship with them.
In creation and again in redemption man was invited into relationship with the trinity. I wonder if St. Patrick ever used a four-leaf clover to explain that?
Today, as I celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, the four-leaf clover will remind me of the precious invitation to be in a relationship with the eternal, triune God. I will remember the great cost of the invitation. I will remember that Christ sought me like a rare clover from the fields of humanity throughout the ages. I will remember he rose victorious with a crown of glory on his head, and when he found me, he rejoiced.
The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing. Zephaniah 3:17
Happy St. Patrick’s Day, precious one.