Who were Crispin and Crispinian (abbreviated from Wikipedia)
Born to a noble Roman family in the 3rd century AD, Saints Crispin and Crispinian fled persecution for their faith, ending up at Soissons, where they preached to the Gauls whilst making shoes by night. They earned enough by their trade to support themselves and also to aid the poor. Their success attracted the ire of the local governor, who had them tortured and thrown into the river with millstones around their necks. Though they survived, they were beheaded by the Emperor.
Saint Crispin’s Day in history and culture (abbreviated from Wikipedia)
Several important battles were fought on this day in history, most famously the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, in which the English were terribly outnumbered but managed a victory over the French army. This was enshrined in British cultural memory a hundred years later in Shakespeare’s play Henry V, complete with an oft-quoted speech. Perhaps part of it will ring a bell: “Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, / From this day to the ending of the world, / But we in it shall be remember’d; / We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.”
A Lesson in the Reversal of Fortunes
It may seem jarring, at first, to associate the death of martyrs with an army victorious in battle. Two holy brothers, Crispin & Crispinian, died on this day, yet the English remember an unlikely but critical victory also. Do these two things have anything in common whatsoever, or is Shakespeare’s speech put into the mouth of King Henry V a complete non sequitur to the religious observance?
The resolution of this conundrum is found in our first reading. In the vision attributed to Ezra (but actually penned by someone else) those who have confessed the name of God… are being crowned. Even in the midst of martyrdom of death, those who faithfully believe and proclaim God’s Word enjoy an ultimate victory. Crispin and Crispinian died at the hands of men, but have gone on to join the whole company of heaven receiving their true reward from the hands of Jesus himself. Though their fortunes in this world went downhill, glory awaited them in eternal life. The unexpected English victory at Agincourt is a tiny picture of this biblical truth: though our evils seem to outnumber our good works, and though suffering seems to overtake our happiness, there is a glorious victory awaiting all who confess the Name of Christ.
Psalm 126 on the Reversal of Fortunes
Our take-home summary of this lesson is Psalm 126. This Psalm is all about the reversal of fortunes. It begins with saying that it was like a dream-come-true when God restored their fortunes. This probably referred to the rebuilding of Jerusalem after the exile of God’s people, and we can take it to prefigure our arrival in heaven – the eternal promised land. It describes the laughter, the joy, the songs, and the recognition from other peoples that God has done great things for his people. Even now, with only a foretaste of heaven we sing and proclaim the good news of Christ throughout the world. “The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad!”
The Psalm ends with a prayer: “Restore our fortunes, like the watercourses in the Negev”, that is, the South. It’s a dry desert region that needs more water. It’s used as a picture of this life: we do not find water that quenches our spiritual thirst anywhere in this world no matter how deeply into other religions and philosophies and hopes we dig our wells. The water of life springs up only from Christ. So when we turn to him, we find eternal life. Our weeping turns to shouts of joy. Our seeds for sowing turn to whole sheaves – that is the potential for sustenance becomes a veritable banquet.
We celebrate this, especially, in the Lord’s Supper, where mere wafers of bread and sips of wine communicate to us the Body and Blood of Christ, the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. The great reversal of fortunes, from sin and death to light and life, is portrayed and proclaimed in these times of worship. Take this spiritual food tonight for your spiritual nourishment. And take this Psalm home with you on your lips that God’s nourishment may stay afresh in your hearts and minds.