From Be Thou My Breastplate, by Paul Wallis
Let the sign of Christ be on this forehead. (Fursa’s Breastplate)
Of what do you conceive when you hear “the sign of Christ”? The waters of baptism? The sign of the cross, in ash or in oil on the penitent’s forehead? More fundamentally, what is brought to mind by the word, “Christ”?
In our day, “Christ-like” suggests quiet, meek, gentle, harmless, and tranquil. This is where “Christlike” seems to sit in contemporary English language.
However, for the Celtic believer, “Christ” was a word that bristled with strength. What our Celtic fathers heard more clearly than us is that “Christ” means “messiah.” To be messiah-like means to have a God-given power to save lives and change history; king-like to lead others and bring hope; to raise a standard to fight and prevail for the cause of God. This is the sign Fursa now wants on his forehead. He is praying for a strength that comes not from man but only from Heaven, an ability to bring change and mobilize others in campaigning for the kingdom of God.
Fursa did all of those things. Through the years of his ministry Fursa recruited and led many people into the rigors of monastic community life and to the demands of missionary activity that spanned three continents. All of his biographers attest that Fursa’s ministry brought healing, deliverance, and salvation to many. This is not a faith of quiet compliance to things that are not the will of God. It is a bold and virile faith that Fursa’s life projects.
Accordingly, Fursa’s daily prayer is not a tranquil abandonment of self to what-will-be-will-be. Instead, he calls out for the Spirit of God to strengthen him with power in his inmost being, as he seeks to obey the apostolic command to “fight the good fight of the faith.”
In the battles to which any messiah-like believer will be sent – whether the battle against one’s own sin and selfishness, or the struggle to do what is good and right in a secular and sinful world; whether the conflicts of family and church life, or the challenges of speaking and showing the grace of God – we need his power.
Whatever the battles were that Fursa envisages, I believe he daily invokes the power of God in order not to find himself spent or destroyed by them. When the destroying angel was sent to smite the houses of the Hebrews’ Egyptian persecutors, that holy sign daubed in blood on the doorposts of the Hebrew houses instructed the avenging angel to pass over so that God’s children would not be harmed.
The sign of Christ on our forehead is our Passover signal. Of everyone willing to bear the sign of Christ, God says, “This one is mine,” This house is sanctified.” With such an assurance even one caught up in a messiah’s battles can say with the Psalmist, “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.”
You may find yourself pulled in the two directions. At times you may find yourself energized and stirred up – like a holy warrior who calls to his God for the power to advance and prevail. At other times you may find yourself so vulnerable that you can only hope for the danger to pass you over, as you call out to Christ for his peace and deliverance. Fursa’s prayer speaks for both situations and both desires. Whatever your need may be today, you can pray with your Celtic forefather for the sign of Christ – the messiah’s sign – to be on your forehead.