crossed swords

St George’s Day 2020

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27 “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

Matthew 16: 24-28

Have you ever seen kids playing with palm crosses as if they are swords? Not surprising perhaps, because if you turn a palm cross sideways it resembles a cross, especially in the imagination of a child.

Today is St George’s Day 2020. St George is the Patron Saint of England, as well as many other nations, including Palestine, from where the historical ‘George’ is thought to have originated.

The St George of the popular imagination is more of a mythical figure, known for fighting and vanquishing a dragon. This story is possibly a Christian reworking of an ancient Pagan myth.

Not much is known about the historical ‘George’, other that he was born in Palestine and became a Roman soldier before being martyred for refusing to recant his faith in Christ.

Some years ago when I was Chaplain to Merseyside Police I tried on a police stab vest and belt, complete with all the accessories. Both were VERY heavy. How do they run after people in this, I thought? Weaponry – defensive and offensive – is ‘heavy’, metaphorically as well as literally. Roman armour was particularly weighty, and the sword was the heaviest piece of all. St George would have known and understood this only too well.

In Roman times the cross was a terrifying symbol of Roman tyranny and of the defeat of its enemies and transgressors. To die on a cross was the most despised of deaths. An utter humiliation. The crucified would be made to carry their cross through the streets on the way to the place of crucifixion as warning to those watching.

In His death and Resurrection Jesus transformed the cross into a sword – a weapon of love. I appreciate the symbol of the crucifix, yet I also know that the Cross of Christ is empty. For He who hung there is no longer there. He is Risen. He is alive. He lives in me by His Spirit, and in the hearts billions of others. And ultimately He has defeated the dragons of sickness, suffering and sorrow. Halleluiah!

Over the years as a Priest I have occasionally been asked to perform a ‘ritual of cleansing’ in a home or building where strange – and often malevolent – spiritual phenomena have occurred. In doing so I have always followed the guidance I read as a curate in a book titled Requiem Healing by Russ Parker and Michael Mitton, that is to begin with a simple Eucharist/Service of Holy Communion. In my quite limited experience this has always done the trick. Whatever is present has taken its leave as the cleansing power of the Cross is invoked.

Today on this St George’s Day, we face another ‘dragon’. An unseen but deadly enemy. The dis-ease Coronavirus.

In the face of this dragon let us take up our cross, bearing the infirmities of others, carrying their sorrows and those of their loved ones to the Risen Christ in prayer.

Let us take up the Cross of Christ as a spiritual sword against the Coronavirus, confident in the truth that ‘Jesus blood has never failed’ to repel our dragons.

Let it be.

Tune was recorded by Gavin Bryars in 1971 for Alan Powers’ documentary. One day Gavin left studio for a cup of coffee while the song played back in a loop, and when he was back, he noticed that people around are moving slowly, some sitting alone, weeping. He realized the emotional power of this music and added orchestral accompaniment to it. Tramp has died before he could hear Gavins’ work. Gavin said: “… the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his(tramp) spirit and optimism”.