What helps us to take courage? Or what helps us feel protected? Do you protect others? In these times of lockdown all these questions might evoke new answers.
The letter to the Ephesians was written to a church community that was a minority in a society under Roman rule. They suffered daily harassment and discrimination. The letter gives words of encouragement to live, lives of faith, courageous and strong following in the footsteps of Jesus. In this last section of the letter, we find a military image reminiscent of a Roman soldier wearing armor. Yet the armor here, is transformed into living symbols characteristic of being a disciple of Jesus.
The whole passage appears as a call to persevere, a kind of spiritual pep talk. For despite the real opposition, the community is told they have certain spiritual protection (like wearing protective clothing) by taking on the Christian attributes listed to become like Christ. In an analogous way we might see how athletics coaches, and other life coaches remind the person coached, of who they want to be and provide goals to attain and a discipline to follow. So many of the athletes we witnessed in the Olympics, and soon to begin Para-Olympics, are who they are through following the training regimes set forth by their coaches who spur them on.
Now not may of us will be so disciplined, or even connect with military images, yet in the early faith communities, the image given in Ephesians 6: 6-10 of wearing armor like a soldier would have spurred them on to grow in their faith. It is indeed a strong image to hear a call to put on the whole armor of God.
Looking at the individual elements we might still see relevance today—
A belt of truth circling the wearer as God’s truth might encircle those who believe in an era where fake news and narratives based on fear lead people astray.
A breastplate of righteousness or justice to guard the heart, what might protect those heart values in our lives?
Shoes that will help you proclaim the gospel of peace; in those ancient times soldiers’ shoes had spikes to help them stand upright (like some sporting shoes). With this posture in mind, aided by the footwear, what might help us stand tall to live in the peace of God and share peace with others?
A shield of faith, in those times, and in medieval times, shields were often soaked in water before battle, so if flaming arrows were shot, they would fizzle out and not harm the wearer. It might be stretching the metaphor, yet for those struggling with issues that are threatening them, like people having a go verbally and diminishing them, this image of putting up a shield that might deflect or disempower what is coming at them would be helpful. I am reminded of how firewalls, parental locks, and virus protection on our computers similarly seek to limit exposure to harm.
The helmet of salvation, a protective head covering would seem obvious to keep a person safe and prevent harm.
The sword of the Spirit, not an actual sword but something of God’s energy that would help people act in life-giving ways.
Each of these features and images, evoked a sense of purpose for the hearer to not be afraid and live out their faith courageously. We too may need to recall the strength and resources of our faith in challenging times and circumstances. And to know that despite the risks and difficulties of life it is still important to be courageous and not lose hope.
The ancient Celtic prayer of St Patrick’s breastplate also illustrates how people called on God to protect them and such invocation can still lift our spirits as we join us with those who have gone before us. Here are sections of St Patrick’s breastplate prayer:
I bind unto myself today
The strong Name of the Trinity,
By invocation of the same,
The Three in One and One in Three.
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.
I invite you to take from this reflection something that might help you feel supported, loved, and protected as joined with Christ, knowing that you have resources to draw upon to help your faith and service.
I also give you the image of a holding cross that fits snuggly into your hand (I would pass an actual one around if I were with you, yet the image will suffice) which many people hold as a symbol of Christ with them.
What might give us courage – the resources of our faith in word, symbol, and presence. As the words to the hymn Be thou my vision say, God be our vision “whatever befalls,” around us, beside us, within us, and beyond us reaching out in compassion to all.
Rev Lynette Dungan