A Secular Saint

Today (I write this on the 13th of December) the whole of Sweden is celebrating a saint. Sweden, being a protestant country (not to mention – very secular) don’t usually pay attention to saints. Not even our very own saint, Birgitta, is honoured with her own day. Still Lucia has a special place in Swedish tradition. How can that be? Well, first of all most Swedes have no idea that they are celebrating a saint. Lucia has become Swedish and taken on a life of her own. The Italian saint has been mashed together with Swedish traditions taken from a variety of places. The end result is something typically Swedish – a secular saint! The same is true of most Christian holidays. Swedes celebrate them, but only a few for religious reasons. Christmas, Easter, and so on, have all been filled with a new secular meaning – usually centred on food and consumption. From a Christian point of view only the shell remains – a Christian holiday by name only. It is my belief that this has something to do with the Church of Sweden being a national church. From the reformation and until the year 2000 the Church of Sweden was part of the state – basically a government institution funded by taxes. Being a Swede was the same as belonging to the Church of Sweden. You were actually born into the church, which meant that you could be a member of the Church even if you weren’t baptised. Being a Swede meant that you automatically were a Christian. All that changed 2000, but many Swedes still see the Church of Sweden as a government institution. During the centuries Christianity was mixed up in our national identity making hard for people to say which is which. That’s how Lucia became a Swedish secular saint. As a minister in the Church of Sweden it is a constant challenge to separate Christianity from what used to be a government institution. It is not unheard of people coming to the church asking for a church wedding, but at the same time asking if the minister could omit any reference to “God and such things” – I doubt that anyonewould ask a catholic priest that question. Anyway, to set things strait, Lucia lived in Italy around the 3rd century and died as a martyr when the Christian church was persecuted by the Roman emperor Diocletianus. Of all the different legends associated with her there is one about her bringing food into the deepest and darkest dungeons. To be able to carry more in her hands she was said to put candles on her head. In advent, in honour of her, we as Christians should also spread the light and bring food to those who hungers.
Please join us this coming Sunday for Holy Communion service at 5 pm in the Cathedral.