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The Church Militant…Triumphant…Alive

By Mary Domb Mikkelson, The Table:  United Church of Christ of La Mesa

MaryDombMikkelson3In a recent sermon my older daughter spoke of the passing of a longtime congregant, an elderly woman known for her command of the Psalms – start one (any one) and she could recite it from memory.  Bertha had in death, Karen said, “joined the Church Triumphant.”

While meaning could be conjectured, it was a new phrase to me.  As I soon learned, though, “Church Triumphant” (Ecclesia Triumphans) was part of the history of many of the churches I have known in my life – Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, etc.

The dictionary definition, “those Christians in heaven who have triumphed over evil and the enemies of Christ,”1 however, seemed a tad archaic – and bellicose.

A little research and I discovered Triumphant’s sibling, The Church Militant (Ecclesia Militans).  Back to the dictionary – The Church Militant, it turned out, was “those Christians on earth who are engaged in a continuous war against evil and the enemies of Christ.” 2   To many believers, they comprise the church united (Communion of Saints), supporting one another in prayer.

The concept was well-rooted biblically, reflecting Ephesians 6:12 (KJV):  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rules of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

“Onward Christian Soldiers!” sounded in my mind:  “Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise…”

Not very UCC, you say?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Ours is a dynamic language.

Example:  A new UCC banner reads as follows:

 

Banner

 

Definitely a call to action, to a moral commitment to justice and peace.  Rather than channeling the Crusades, however, today’s assertiveness leads us into a different battle, a battle to create, to encourage, to build up, to foster, to develop.  The Church Militant (as I see it) is morphing into the Church Proactive.

And THAT is very UCC.

What about Triumphant?

I think of Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, whose take on death is quietly triumphant:  “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”

“The dawn has come…”   A description right in line with 2 Timothy 4:7-8 (KJV):  “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:  Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day:  and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.”

“…fought a good fight…finished my course…kept the faith.”   A new dawn.  The Church Triumphant (whatever our “visual” of Heaven).  In the words of “Onward Christian Soldiers” (once again):  “Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng.  Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song!”

“Blend with ours your voices…”

A member of my church recently – and serendipitously – posted on Facebook the 2007 Pentecost Sunday processional hymn of The Cathedral of Hope.  The opening verse – “We are the Church Alive, Christ’s presence on this earth; we give God’s Spirit body in the act of our new birth.  As yielded open channels for God’s descending dove, we shout and sing, with joy, we bring God’s all inclusive love” – spoke volumes.  As did its closing line, “May (we) be your Church, the Church Alive, for all eternity.”

The Church Alive… “open channels for God’s descending dove… (bringing) God’s all inclusive love…for all eternity.”  How better to describe the Church Proactive (Militant) and its eternal bond with the Church Triumphant?

“Doing together what we cannot do alone.3”  How very UCC!

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1dictionary.com

2Another sibling, the Church Penitent (Ecclesia Penitens), in Catholic theology “those Christians presently in Purgatory,” completes the family.

3A treasured slogan of my church, The Table:  United Church of Christ of La Mesa

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