“St. Patrick’s Breastplate: I Bind unto Myself Today”
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! “What??” you’re saying. “Pastor, have you lost your mind? St. Patrick’s Day was back on March 17. This is now May something. What’s up with this ‘Happy St. Patrick’s Day’?”
Well, alright, I’ll tell you, since you asked. This day is not really St. Patrick’s Day. But it is a day on which St. Patrick can teach us something about what this day really is about, and that is, it’s Trinity Sunday. Yes, today in the church year is the Feast of the Holy Trinity, a day on which we focus on the biblical doctrine of the Holy Trinity–on the divine reality of the Holy Trinity and how absolutely essential this reality is for our life and faith and salvation. The Holy Trinity, the one true God, the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–this is the only God there is. This is the God of our salvation.
On this one Sunday in the year, we call special attention to this truth. On this day we speak out loud one of the three ecumenical creeds of the church, the Athanasian Creed, which goes into the most detail on the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. On this day, all of our hymns are particularly Trinitarian, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “We All Believe in One True God,” and so on.
It is in that context, then, that I can say to you this morning, “Happy St. Patrick’s Day!” For St. Patrick–yes, that St. Patrick, the missionary to Ireland–wrote one of the hymns that we’re using today (or at least it is attributed to him). And this hymn–you heard the choir sing it earlier–this hymn is profoundly Trinitarian and most fitting for our instruction, inspiration, and edification today, on this Feast of the Holy Trinity. And so our theme for this morning: “St. Patrick’s Breastplate: I Bind unto Myself Today.”
Now first of all why is this hymn called “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”? Well, a breastplate is a piece of armor covering your chest. It is designed to protect you from assaults and danger. And St. Patrick saw the name of the Holy Trinity as his breastplate, protecting him in times of danger. Thus the term used for this hymn, “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” And guess what? St. Patrick’s Breastplate will be your mighty breastplate, too!
The idea of the name of the Lord as a piece of armor for the believer was nothing new with St. Patrick. It goes back many centuries before him. In the Book of Psalms we find some prime examples. In Psalm 33, we read, “Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.” You see? The psalmist trusted in the holy name of the Lord to be his help and his shield. Elsewhere in the Psalms we find the same thing. From Psalm 124–and we say these words at the start of every service: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” From Psalm 16, in today’s Introit, the same idea of the Lord being our constant protection: “I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”
And in other places in the Bible, likewise, we find the name of the Lord to be our strong refuge. From the prophet Joel, a passage quoted by both St. Peter and St. Paul, we read: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.” Again, calling upon the name of the Lord, in faith–this is to call on God to be our salvation, our protection, our strength and our shield.
Most famous, perhaps, is that passage from Ephesians 6 about putting on the whole armor of God: “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,” and so on.
So with all of these biblical examples you can see how St. Patrick got the idea to take the name of the triune God to be his protecting breastplate. Now let’s turn to his hymn itself to see how this is so beautifully expressed. It’s hymn 604 in your hymnal, “I Bind unto Myself Today.”
The first stanza:
I bind unto myself today
The strong name of the Trinity
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three.
What is this “binding unto myself” business? And what is this “by invocation of the same”? Here St. Patrick is talking about invoking, calling upon, the name of the Trinity, binding that name to himself. When Patrick would arise in the morning, he would speak forth the name of the triune God and bind this most holy and wonderful name to himself, as his strength and protection throughout the day. This is not superstition. This is Christian faith.
And do you know this is the same practice that Luther recommends for us to do also? In the Catechism, in the Daily Prayers, Luther writes: “In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: “In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
You see, this is the name into which you were baptized. That is when God placed his name on you, in the waters of Holy Baptism. That is when God the Father became your Father. That is when God the Son, Jesus Christ, bound himself to you, to be your Lord and Savior. That is when, in your baptism, the Holy Spirit washed away your sins and gave you the gift of faith. God bound himself to you in baptism and placed his name upon you. Therefore it is most appropriate to begin each new day, rising with Christ, binding the name of the Trinity to yourself, recalling your identity as a child of God, marked as one redeemed by Christ the crucified, gifted with new life by the Holy Spirit. St. Patrick knew this, Luther knew this, and you do too.
I bind this day to me forever,
By pow’r of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
His Baptism in the Jordan River,
His cross of death for my salvation,
His bursting from the spicèd tomb,
His riding up the heavenly way,
His coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today.
Just as all of the Trinitarian creeds have a special section devoted to the person and work of Christ, so does St. Patrick’s Breastplate. Notice how this stanza follows the life of Jesus as recorded in the gospels and confessed in the creeds: Christ’s incarnation, baptism, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and his coming again.
This is the heart of our salvation and our faith, right here. For unless the Son of God came in the flesh to be our brother and our Savior, we would be lost forever. Our sins would doom us. But Christ Jesus suffered and died on the cross in our place, and your sins now are atoned for. Jesus’ rising from the tomb proves this. He has ascended into heaven and will come again on the Last Day to judge the living and the dead. For us, that day will be a day of joy and salvation.
All of this–all that Christ has done and will do for our salvation–all this we bind to ourselves, by faith, when we invoke the name of the Lord.
I bind unto myself today
The pow’r of God to hold and lead,
His eye to watch, His might to stay,
His ear to hearken to my need,
The wisdom of my God to teach,
His hand to guide, His shield to ward,
The Word of God to give me speech,
His heav’nly host to be my guard.
God is watching out for you. He is watching over you. He cares for you every day. God is your loving heavenly Father who sends his angels to protect you and guard you in your ways.
Against the demon snares of sin,
The vice that gives temptation force,
The natural lusts that war within,
The hostile foes that mar my course;
Or few or many, far or nigh,
In ev’ry place and in all hours,
Against their fierce hostility,
I bind to me those holy pow’rs.
You need God guarding you. You would not make it otherwise. There are all these forces aligned against you, enemies who would bring you down and cause you to lose your salvation: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. But God will keep you along the way.
St. Patrick knew he needed the Lord’s protection. When he went to Ireland back around the year 400, it was a pagan, heathen land. And there was an Irish king who wanted to kill Patrick for bringing the Christian religion to his land. But Patrick called upon the name of the Lord to guard him, and the good Lord did protect him. The Lord kept him safe and allowed Patrick to preach the gospel, thus enabling him to make many Christians.
Then comes the interlude between stanzas 4 and 5. It’s printed on the back of your bulletin:
Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
Christ our Lord has promised to be with us, leading us every step of the way, present with us every day of our lives. He is our joy and our comfort. Our Good Shepherd indeed is with us, just as he promised. And so we can say with confidence: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
We close then with stanza 5, and let’s stand and sing this stanza together:
I bind unto myself the name,
The strong name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One, and One in Three,
Of whom all nature hath creation,
Eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
Salvation is of Christ the Lord!
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.