I have to make a confession. As someone who grew up playing with toy soldiers and fascinated with history (especially ancient and medieval military history), I adore the metaphor St. Paul uses in today’s Epistle Reading:
Brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. — Ephesians 6:10-17
Metaphors, of course, invite us to apply them to our own lives. As 21st century Americans, however (being several centuries removed from soldiers using armor, shield and sword), this is not an easy a task as one might at first think. Fortunately, today’s Gospel gives us a clue. Christ tells the rich man:
Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me. — Luke 18:22
Note the similarity this has to Christ’s more universal command:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. — Matthew 16:24
This gives us something to grab onto. Look at this imagery used in the Kontakion of the Elevation of the Cross:
for an ally, Lord, may they have You, peace as their armor, the trophy invincible.
Look also at the imagery from the Ikos of the Elevation of the Cross:
This very Cross of the Lord, then, let us all surely hold as our boast. For this wood is our salvation, the shield of peace, the trophy invincible.
Using this imagery we can then understand that the armor of God, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit are all the Cross. This is our key to applying the metaphor to our own lives. In order to put on the armor of God, we must deny ourselves, pickup our Cross and follow Christ. In a word: sacrifice.
This is our path, our armor, our protection and our call:
Lord, God Almighty, You alone are holy. You accept a sacrifice of praise from those who call upon You with their whole heart. Receive also the prayer of us sinners and let it reach Your holy altar. Enable us to bring before You gifts and spiritual sacrifices for our sins and for the transgressions of the people. Make us worthy to find grace in Your presence so that our sacrifice may be pleasing to You and that Your good and gracious Spirit may abide with us, with the gifts here presented, and with all Your people. — Prayer of the Proskomide from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
As members of the royal priesthood, we make sacrifice not just for ourselves but everyone. Indeed, we implore God:
Remember also, Lord, those whom each of us calls to mind and all your people. — Anaphora from the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom
We are called today to to put on the armor of God through sacrifice — by freely giving of our time, our treasure and our talents. We are called to bring these forth before the altar of God for our salvation and the salvation of the people. This sounds counter-intuitive. Our natural instinct is to hold on to what we have for our own protection. This is especially tempting in times of strife and we certainly are going through a period of economic strife. Remember, though, we are talking about the Cross.
God so loved the world that He sent us His Only-Begotten Son who willingly sacrificed Himself upon the Cross so that we might taste the Resurrection. The font of mercy and power that is the Cross is endless. When we chose the Cross, when we choose to freely sacrifice our time, treasure and talents (just as Christ freely went to the Cross) we not only get to participate in Christ’s sacrifice, we get to participate in His Resurrection.
Remember Christ’s own words to us today:
What is impossible with men is possible with God — Luke 18:27
Miracles will happen. Things you thought impossible will become possible. The love of God the Father will manifest in your life and that sacrifice will suddenly become resurrection. Amen.