In our worship, we speak of the glorious company of apostles, the noble fellowship of prophets, and the white-robed army of martyrs.1We speak of the angelic hosts.2 We might use language such as, “the Church militant,” or, “the Church triumphant.” Our founder, Fr. Benson, once had a conversation with a stranger while out in the city. When he described his life as a member of a religious community, she exclaimed, “Oh, you must have found so much peace!” Fr. Benson replied, “No, madam, I’ve found a war.”
This language resonates with me, because it gives expression to a truth of my own life with God. I experience God as peace, as rest, as calm, as love. But this is not passivity, and my own proclivity to sin, the corruption of my own human nature, fights viciously to dethrone God from my heart. In my life, and especially my prayer, I often must fight back, asking God not only for the gifts of calm, rest, and silence, but also for the gifts of strength, vigor, and power, to aid me in the war over my spirit.
Today, we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to my initial surprise, this militant, powerful language has, since the first centuries of Christianity, been used in relation to her as well. More prominent in the Eastern Church, Mary is perceived as a sort of warrior-queen, a commander of the army of the saints, seated even above the angels, participating in this fight herself as well as lending the aid of her strength, power, and wisdom to those of us who feel that the battle might well be lost. Like a new Deborah, one of the ancient judges of Israel, who took command of the armies of God’s people to save them from the hands of their enemies,3 Mary fights with us and for us, especially when all seems lost.
But we must not think of this battle in a crude and unredeemed way, as the glorification of the cruel savagery and brutality of human violence. For the kingdom of God is not of this world. Christ did not call forth the angelic host to save him from arrest,4 and he did not call on his disciples to fight for his release.5 This war is to be fought on a different field of battle, and the enemy is not our fellow men and women, our fellow bearers of the image of God.
Rather, this is a war of the spirit, against all those forces that have aligned to deprive us of our life with God. We are the army of God in this fight, and God has gone out with our armies as he has promised,6 in the person of Christ. Far from the exaltation of dominance and violence, we see Jesus, felled in battle, dead on the cross. So too will we taste death in this fight; the prophet Simeon’s voice rings true for Mary and so for us, that the sword will pierce our own soul too.7
But if the battle of Christ is ours, and the death of Christ is ours, then so too is his victory. So too is his triumph over the grave, his joy, his resurrection, his love, and his life.8 And in the example of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may trust that our participation in Christ will not be in vain.
- Te Deum, Canticle 21, Book of Common Prayer, p. 95
- Joshua 5:13-15
- Judges 4 and 5, NRSV
- Matthew 26:52-53
- John 18:33-36
- Deuteronomy 20:1; Psalm 44
- Luke 2:34-35
- Romans 6:5-8
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