Fighting the good fight of faith has always been tricky amongst Christians.
Some of us are happy to fight the good fight, sing “Onward Christian soldiers,” and move on down the road. And some of us have difficulty with any references of fighting the good fight, conducting holy wars and all other militaristic images in scripture and worship.
I suppose I fall into both camps, willing to fight the good fight of faith but also squirming a little when militaristic things wander into the Church. The perfect Anglican/Episcopalian via media response, yes?
Sunday’s (Oct. 23) reading from Second Timothy is actually one I remember asking my grandmother about as a child. She read the Bible each morning and prayed long prayers each night, and at her in-town house and her lake house, we had a big children’s book of Bible stories from which she would read to me each night I spent at her house.
One of my favorite stories was of Paul and Silas singing in jail. I also remember asking her about these lines from Sunday’s reading: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” Why should followers of Jesus have to fight, and why is life considered a race?
Of course, we’re not really fighting nor does life have to be a race all of the time. I remember her explanations: Fighting the good fight is doing the right thing and standing up for what you believe, while finishing the race is living a good and full life right up to the end. These explanations seemed to satisfy my eager childhood mind.
So, with a nonliteral grain of salt, we sing this great text of the Church, “Fight the good fight with all thy might,” as the 10:30 Offertory anthem this Sunday. Irish Anglican priest John S. B. Monsell (1811-1875) was a prolific hymnist; he wrote eleven published volumes of poetry and about 300 hymn texts.
This significant, time-tested text is set to two separate hymn tunes in The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 552 and Hymn 553. The anthem setting for Sunday is by John Gardner, CBE (1917-2011), who is probably most famous in sacred music for his setting of “Tomorrow shall be my dancing day,” which our parish choirs often sing at Christmas.
Gardner’s “Fight the good fight” is a rousing rhythmic treatment of this text. Indeed, in a wonderful way, the rhythm of the accompaniment does not have much to do with the sung rhythms. Listen for the complete departure and rhythmic change for the text, “Cast care aside, lean on thy guide … Christ is its life, and Christ its love.”