On 23rd April we celebrated St George’s day. If I were to ask you what do you associate with St George, I wouldn’t mind betting that many, if not all, would say slaying the dragon.
But St George – as well as slaying dragons – was a soldier. A soldier in the Roman army – probably an officer. And like many saints, St George was described as a martyr after he died for his Christian faith. It is believed that during the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian, St George was executed at Lydda for refusing to make a sacrifice in honour of the pagan gods on 23rd April in the year 303. So as well as being a soldier in the Roman Army, St George was also a soldier for Christ.
As a soldier St George would not have been sent or indeed expected to go to war unprepared. He would have had the right training, he would have been disciplined and focussed on his mission. He would also have worn the correct armour and is often depicted as a crusader – wearing a strong suit of armour and carrying a lance, tipped by a cross, and riding on a white horse. As I said, he wasn’t sent out to fight unprepared – not knowing what his aims and objectives were, the goals of his mission. He would have been motivated by the mission and he would know who and what he was fighting for and he would have been in a constant state of readiness. And As a soldier of Christ he would have been just as prepared to carry out his Christian mission.
Saints and soldiers come in many different guises and today we could and perhaps should say that all our NHS staff and the medical staff around the world, are soldiers and saints as they fight an unseen enemy, the coronavirus, many suffering for their cause and sadly many of whom have lost their lives, and continue to do so, in the pursuit of service and dedication to help in saving the lives of others. And we have heard much of the need for PPE – Personal Protective Equipment – their suit of armour, their own protection.
In the prescribed reading for 23rd April – 2 Timothy 2: 3-13 (see reading below), Paul uses the example of the soldier to represent the Christian. A soldier’s aim is to please his or her enlisting officer, so if we are to be soldiers and followers of Christ, we too must dedicate ourselves and concentrate our efforts to be like Christ and that to realise and accept, that by doing so, will be persecuted and will suffer along the way, just as our Saviour did at Easter.
With Palm Sunday and Easter still very much in our minds and hearts, I couldn’t help but compare St George as a soldier going into battle and Christ riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. A huge disappointment to many who thought that they too had a leader who would lead them into battle against their Roman occupiers – rather than as the saviour of the world.
As the story unfolds, the euphoria of the crowd on that day soon turned into hatred and loathing and the gospel reading (John 15: 18-21 – see below) reminds us that, If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you … if they persecuted me, they will persecute you…. Not comfortable words to hear, but no-one has ever said that being a follower of Christ is an easy option.
If we are to be followers and soldiers for Christ, then we too must be prepared, and trained to take on this task and Paul continues his letter to Timothy with words of encouragement by using examples of the athlete and of the toiling farmer.
If an athlete wants to get to the top of their sport they must put in hours and years of practice and dedication to become the best – often to the exclusion of everything else and ‘compete according to the rules.’ They won’t be crowned as the winner of their race or competition or be presented with their medal unless they put in the hard work and the same can be said of the farmer who can only have first share of the crops after putting in hours of toil and labour to grow and nurture the crops.
Today, few of us are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice and become a martyr like St George or some of our healthcare workers. Christ made the ultimate sacrifice for us so that we don’t have to. But as soldiers of Christ we are called to action, to spread the Gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ.
But before we act, we too need to be prepared, before we undertake the tasks before us.
Ephesians 6 urges us to, Take up the whole armour of God, so that we may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Having put on our own PPE, just like the athlete, we also need to be discipled and keep up our training and not become complacent or distracted or let anything come between us and our living God and the tasks that lie before us. And then to remember that when dealing with others the supreme rule of our life is to love. To ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and with all your strength’ and to ‘Love your neighbour as yourselves.’
And only when we have prepared, truly prepared ourselves, are we then to go out as soldiers of Christ. So what does that look like and mean for us today, especially at this time, when many are self-isolating?
Well here are some suggestions, but I am sure that you can also think of some of your own.
We probably won’t be canonised and made a Saint like St George, but that doesn’t mean that what we do is any less important. So as we go about our daily life, let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord – and decide to stand out and make a real difference as a soldier of Jesus Christ.
And I would like to finish with a prayer.
Heavenly Father, who so kindled the flame of love in the heart of your servant George that he bore witness to the risen Lord by his life and by his death:
Give us the same faith and power of love that we who rejoice in his triumphs may come to share with him the fullness of the resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Yours in Christ,
‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.’
Share in suffering like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving in the army gets entangled in everyday affairs; the soldier’s aim is to please the enlisting officer. And in the case of an athlete, no one is crowned without competing according to the rules. It is the farmer who does the work who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in all things.
Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. The saying is sure:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he will also deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful
for he cannot deny himself.