The Second Sunday of Easter
In the calendar of the church, this second Sunday of Eastertide coincides with the traditional day of commemoration for a solider named George who lived in Palestine at the beginning of the fourth century. Early traditions remember his being put to death on this date, April 23, year 303. This soldier, named George, was “killed in action,” not in service to the Emperor Diocletian but rather martyred as a soldier of Christ. He became known throughout the Eastern Church as “The Great Martyr.” Many years later, following the Crusades of the Middle Ages, the soldiers returning home to the British Isles carried with them a great spiritual devotion to their fellow soldier and martyr, George, and he became the Patron Saint of England.i Here’s a test of memory. I’m wondering if you can call to mind how Saint George is typically pictured? In iconography or other artistic renderings, Saint George is most often depicted in armor slaying a dragon that is at his feet.
Talking about dragons these days is not a topic of everyday conversation. We are too sophisticated, I suppose, to literally believe in dragons that inhabit the Lockness Lake or an enchanted forest, and yet I think the archetype of a dragon is still very much with us in the realm of metaphor and imagination. These days we still do talk about “facing the dragon” in our own souls. There’s still a kind of symbolic realism to many of us, I suspect, about the dragons that lurk at the boundaries of our soul. Could you put a name to a “dragon” in your own life, something that could seem ominous or dangerous, with the potential to overpower you? These kind of “dragons” probably cannot be avoided in life. They predictably show up, uninvited and threatening, in our dreams and fears and compensations.
In ancient lore, dragons appear in our lives or come across our paths for two reasons: either they are guarding something valuable – something that is very good or very bad – or they are coming at us, accosting us. We are the prize, and the dragon is coming after us.
If I were to ask you the question – “Where is the dragon in your own life?” – would you know what I was talking about? If so, the dragon probably has something to do either with your past, or it has something to do with your future. If it’s the past, the dragon is most likely guarding a secret. It may be a secret shame or a secret hope. You need to claim the secret. You will not be whole, you will not know the full dignity of your birth and the meaning of your life, until you are able to name and claim this secret. Even if it looks shameful, if the secret is guarded by a dragon it actually is a secret treasure or it’s likely the key to a treasure in your life. I’m sure that is so, or otherwise the dragon would not be there on guard. Whatever it is, it’s of inestimable value. Otherwise the dragon would not be there, guarding that thing of your past. Your past is full of treasure, and it belongs to you.
Or if the dragon is ahead, in your future, the dragon is probably coming at you threatening your impending death. The dragon may be threatening to take your life away from you in the form of disease or diminishment. This dragon, coming to you out of the future, may almost cripple you by the fear you feel evoked by its roar. If you are acquainted with this dragon, I can tell you for certain, this dragon is nothing to be afraid of. First of all, you are “a goner.” Dying and death are a part of life. Period. We are all terminal by the end of the day or week or year or some years ahead. Our own death is assured. This dragon from your future is something like the Wizard of Oz. There’s nothing there behind the roar… as if the dragon could take away something that is already promised and imminent. The dragon threatening you from the future does not hold claim on your life or on your death.
The gospel writers recall Jesus’ saying that “whoever thinks they can save their life will lose it.”ii Our dying and death will come at a time and in a way over which we will probably have little control. Don’t waste your fear on what is inevitable. The dragon has no power, either to save you or to destroy you. Quite to the contrary, we’re given a triple promise. First, the promise of the imminence of our death. Death is a part of life, and by the end of the day – some day – we all die. For sure. Second, the promise where there is no ultimate death but a life to come, what we call “the resurrection,” something assured and shared with us in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And third, the companionship of Christ to ferry us across the unknown. God Emmanuel: God with us. God with you.
We who are followers of Jesus Christ have not been given life to be wimps. We’ve been promised the companionship of Christ, the strength and courage and armor of Christ, to live boldly into the future. We bear the witness of Christ to a world on our own doorsteps that is terribly afraid.iii If there’s a dragon out there in your own life, maybe more than one, the dragon is either guarding a treasure of your past, which is yours to claim – and you can do this! – or it’s a dragon coming to you out of the future, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Nothing to be afraid of. Nothing. Nothing. You’re not alone in this. As Saint Paul writes, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [including dragons], will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”iv
What’s to be afraid of?
i The eight Crusades of the Middle Ages took place from 1095 to 1270.
ii Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24.
iii We read in the epistles of the “armor of light” (Romans 13:12) and the “full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11-13).
iv Romans 8:35-39.
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