A soldier in the army but you would not bow your kneeRoo Stewart
to any god but to our God, the blessèd Trinity.
A sword you bore in battle for an empire that’s long gone.
You gave your life, a martyr, when you faded like the dawn.
A blood-red cross flies through the land,
a sign to show God’s peace at hand.
A blood-red cross to show the way
of sacrifice on St George’s Day.
Another man I know of met with empire, pow’r and wealth,
but lifted up the lowly, those in search of home and health.
He would not bow to rulers, saying, “Worship God alone.”
He gave his life, a ransom, then he rose to take his throne.
I face a different battle, marching to a different drum,
with Jesus as my standard, I can hope to overcome.
I might not meet a dragon, no, and armour’s not my style,
but with my Lord to guide me, I will walk the extra mile.
©2023 Roo Stewart music, admin. by roostewart.com
The patron saints of the nations of the United Kingdom don't enjoy quite the same status in the eyes of their people. There might be several reasons for this regional variation. For starters, Scotland and Ireland enjoy a bank holiday for their patronal day. Ireland has an intense connection with St Patrick, who lived much of his life on the island and made his mark there. St George, on the other hand, almost certainly never set foot in England and his story is so entangled with mythology and fantasy that it is difficult to identify with him and celebrate his life.
I lead the music at a church named after St George, and in 2023 it so happened that our patronal day fell on a Sunday. As usual, I searched for a song or a hymn that might help us celebrate and be inspired by St George, but unfortunately, aside from a smattering of Victorian wistfulness and militaristic or crusade-themed allusions, there wasn‘t much on offer.
The only option, therefore, was to come up with something myself that tried to shine a light on the true story of St George, and perhaps bring us further on in our understanding of why we should remember St George today.
The key points around St George, according to Greek tradition, are that he existed, he was a soldier in the Roman army and that he was a believer in the God that Christians worship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. His refusal to submit to the gods of the Romans, including perhaps those emperors that elevated themselves to god-like status, would likely have been seen as a risk to the authorities who demanded complete subservience and obedience to the cause.
Even today, people of faith serve in military forces around the world, supported by chaplains who also wear the uniform and have operational training and experience. George‘s refusal to compromise his beliefs resulted in his torture and martyrdom – he was executed for his faith. We shouldn't forget that people around the world still suffer the same fate today.
The chorus of the song refers to the flag of St George: a red cross reaching from top to bottom and left to right upon a white field. At least in the UK, this flag is generally called ’the England flag’ – waved at international sporting fixtures, emblazoned on athletic gear or flown from flag poles with military pomp.
Instead of these associations, however, I wanted to reflect on St George's Cross as a reminder of sacrifice. First of all, of George himself, but also reminding us of the cross of Jesus, who was also a victim of powerful people who were at odds with his faith and practice. The red colour can remind us of blood and the white colour of the bread which we break during a communion service – Jesus’ body, broken for us.
I enjoy exploring the parallels in people’s stories, and so the second verse of the song explores the parallels of George’s life to the life of Jesus – ‘another man I know of’. I usually write songs quickly – with the theme, structure and lyrics worked out within an hour. The melody can take a bit longer, but both lyrics and melody can receive a bit of polishing in the days that follow as I allow the song to ‘bed in’ and travel with me a while.
In this second verse, I had originally written that Jesus ‘worshipped God alone’, which I thought was arguably true, but on reflection I thought that it would be better to avoid any whiff of heresy by directly referencing the episode of Jesus in the wilderness, responding to temptation (Matthew 4:10). The second verse also references writings in the books of Colossians and Hebrews in the New Testament.
The final verse aims to connect the sacrificial lives of George and Jesus with the singer. Our call to follow in the steps of Christ will involve self sacrifice. I enjoy the word play of ‘standard’ being a level to aspire to and also the flag that was traditionally flown at the front of an advancing army. This verse is also where I draw a distinction between the fantastical ideas of George as slayer of dragons and knight of the round table and the reality of life today, where following Jesus is not usually a battle fought with weapons of war but of service and love, even to those it is difficult to love.