"My food," said Jesus, "is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.Don't you have a saying, 'It's still four months until harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying One sows and another reaps' is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor."(John 4:34-38, NIV)
In the Apostolic confession of faith, the church declares: "I believe in the communion of saints". The church is a single and general community that covers the entire world and all time. With this expression in the confession, the church remembers the Christians that have gone before us. The main confession of the Lutheran church, the Augsburg Confession has this: "The memory of saints may be set before us, that we may follow their faith and good works, according to our calling."
Today we commemorate Saint Henrik, the patron saint of Finland. This is the 27th time that we celebrate the mass to commemorate Saint Henrik here in the Finnish chapel of Santa Maria sopra Minerva basilica in Rome. However, the roots of this practice go much further back, all the way to the year 1942. That was when Finland and the Holy See established diplomatic relations. So this year, we will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Finland and the Holy See.
We know little about Bishop Henrik; there are very few accurate historic facts about him. His life and times are largely woven into tales, legends, poems and hymns made up later.
Henrik, born in England, was on his way to the Holy Land. In Rome he met a friend of his, a cardinal, who was planning a trip to the Nordic countries. As a result of this encounter, both of them travelled to the north in 1153.
In Sweden, Henrik evidently became the bishop of Uppsala. He participated in some sort of a punishment and conversion crusade to Finland along with King Erik. During the crusade, many Finns were baptised and ecclesiastic affairs were organised. After the crusade, Erik returned to Sweden and as a mission bishop, Henrik continued organizing church affairs in the south-western regions of our country. His influence remained short-lived. He was killed in Satakunta, on Lake Köyliö, on January 20th probably in the year 1156 or 1157.
Even some of this meagre historic data is based on assumption and deduction. In addition to these, the memory of Saint Henrik lives on in folk tradition and in written heritage. But more important than the precise historic details is the influence that Henrik has had on the life of the people and the church.
Today, the day commemorating Saint Henrik tells us three important things.
First of all, Henrik symbolises the gospel message's reaching out to all parts of the world.The message that started in the Holy Land, in Jerusalem, the place of Christ's resurrection, spread out from country to country. Conveyed by the messengers of the Lord, the Gospel reached also the northernmost regions of Europe, our land and our people. We Finns have become partakers of this gift of the Gospel. Centuries of tradition lie behind what we are doing today in our churches and parishes.
Today we commemorate Saint Henrik, because we confess the truth of the Gospel. "Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor."We are grateful to those who have prayed and struggled, believed and hoped before us. They have taught us also to believe in and to rely on God. Most of all we are grateful to God. He has called us and equipped us and helped us to be faithful to his calling. That is why we also can believe in God.
Secondly: this day of commemorating Saint Henrik is the day of his death. Originally, it was January 20th. For centuries, people have commemorated Henrik's death on that day. However, the medieval calendar of saints had dedicated January 20th to commemorate two martyred saints, St Sebastian and St Fabian from the third century. The memory of these two martyrs was so established in western Christianity that they could not be displaced. In Finland, in the 1668 calendar reform, Henry's day was moved to its current place on January 19th.
Henrik died a violent death due to his faith. He is a martyr, a blood witness. Henrik is a witness to Christ, giving his life serving the church. When we commemorate him, we commemorate also all other martyrs. We honour those saints of God that at different times have given their lives for their faith. We can learn complete trust in God's care of us come what may. At the same time we are called to pray and work for those who are now facing oppression or persecution because of their faith. This is happening all the time in different parts of the world. Recently, around Christmastime out sisters and brothers in Nigeria had to witness for their faith through sacrificing their lives. Our task is to help and support them.
Thirdly, commemorating Saint Henrik reminds us of the unity of Christians. Long ago, Henrik came to bring the Gospel to a country that had no organised Christian parish life. Later, the listeners of the Gospel have been split apart. That is not the will of our Saviour. The memory of Saint Henrik calls us to seek ways for members of different Christian churches to walk together to carry out the request of the prayer of our Lord: "that all of them may be one" (John 17:21, NIV).
Seeing our common roots and history helps us to walk the road of unity. In spite of differences, as Christian churches we have more factors in common than we have separating us. It is good for us to remember what Pope John XXIII said 50 years ago: "What unites us is much more than what separates us." Ecumenism can advance when we work in this spirit.
Friendship, hospitality and fellowship between churches have increased in the last decades. In spite of many difficult issues, the churches have taken important steps toward each other. This has occurred especially between the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran Churches. Still, visible unity has not been achieved. We cannot yet together partake in the sacrament of the altar. Saint Henrik's heritage calls us to work and pray for the unity of Christian churches.
Dear sisters and brothers. In today's Gospel text Jesus says:"Thus the saying One sows and another reaps' is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor."
We are the fruits of the labours of Christ and the Christianity that came before us. Everything we have received we have received through mercy, without our own efforts. For this we are grateful to God and the Christians before us. Our task is to help and support those who are being oppressed or persecuted for their faith. And we are called to continue sowing the seeds in which we have partaken. At the same time it leads us to seek fellowship with one another. Then, the Christian witness is genuine and compelling.