|For Reflection: This week’s reflection was written by Benjamin focusing on the themes of Remembrance
Reading: John 15: 9-17
Jesus said: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
We are living in a world full of the language of war.
These last few weeks we have witnessed the beginnings of the final act of one of the most visceral and divisive elections in the history of the United States. Where the different candidates and parties have been less debaters on either side of an argument, and more mortal enemies engaged in a battle to the death.
On a global scale we share in a fight against a pandemic which is described as the “hidden enemy” and where we fight “battles” against the virus. We grieve the victims and praise the heroism of those who are on the “frontline”.
In the response of this country this we have been asked to draw on the spirit and sacrifice of those former generations who lived through – and for many – lost their lives as a consequence of the armed conflicts we remember today. On the streets of Liverpool, as efforts and mass and rapid testing have been stepped up, the Army have been deployed in this ongoing conflict.
This week we have summoned the spirit of the Church of and Second World War and been urged by our Archbishops to take part in a month of prayer for the life of the nation.
Very often when we encounter times of challenge and conflict we look to the language of war not only to make sense of that conflict, but also to frame the peace we long framed by the absence of conflict and defeat of the thing that opposes us.
As we pray today for the things that make for peace is it this the peace that we pray for? A tense and partial peace, held together by threat of violence, or is there another vision of peace we should look towards?
In person of Jesus Christ God gives us a different vision for what that peace could be.
The vision of peace as the absence of war is something that would have been known all too well in Jesus’ time. The Pax Romana – the peace promised by Roman rule and occupation – lay at the heart of the political reality of Jesus’ world. As long as obligation and tax was paid to the Emperor and his Governors, then peace remained. But if this was questioned or challenged, then their peace would be asserted at the point of a sword, or in the nails and wood of crucifixion.
It is against this vision of peace through the sword that Jesus offers his alternative vision of the peace of God which, and St Paul tells us, passes all understanding. It is a promise of peace where, in the vision of Isaiah:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
This is a vision of peace which is not simply the absence of war maintained at the point of a sword. It is a vision of peace based on God’s vision for creation, built not on conflict or competition, but on compassion, and forgiveness, and love. It is a vision of peace we hear echo through scripture, and which we find most truly in the deepest expression of God’s will for the world, in the life and person of Jesus Christ.
At the heart of this vision is the transforming power of love. Our Gospel reading today expressed most deeply the transforming power of that love. When Jesus calls us to “love one another as I have loved you” he is not asking us to be nice to each other. Jesus is asking us to reorientate our lives and world towards the needs of others. We are called to live for others as Jesus lived and died for us. Because it is only through finding that love that we can move beyond peace as the absence of war and find that peace which passes all understanding. That peace we find when we know again that:
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends
This is the Pax Christi, the peace of Christ.
As we live through these times of conflict – where the words of war fall easily onto our lips – we need to hold onto this vision of a world orientated not just to “not-war” but a world orientated radically and powerfully towards the things that make for peace.
As we look to the future beyond our present conflicts and challenges, we need to remember the energy that was created at the end of the two world wars. Of the desire to recast the international order through the foundation of the League of Nations, the United Nations, let alone organisations such as the World Health Organisation, the World Food Programme, and Unicef. As we work to remake the world on the far side of this pandemic we need to find that energy to reorientate our live, our institutions, and our world so that we love others, and God loves us.
In our political life we need to move beyond the divisions that scar our debates and seek the common good and Common-wealth of all. Joe Biden – now President Elect of the United Stated – said last week that “we have to remember the purpose of our politics isn’t totally unrelenting warfare”. This wisdom is needed not only was we find our way out of these times of conflict and challenge.
At this time when we mark the names of those who left these communities in time of war and never returned that we honour their sacrifice by following God’s call to find a peace which is more than just the absence of war. It might, and very often does, seem like a peace beyond our understanding. But in Jesus God gives us a path to find that peace. That if we have compassion for one another, if we forgive one another, if we love one another as he loves us, then we can together discover the things that make for peace.
Questions for Reflection
- How have you experienced peace as “not-war” and what was the consequence of that uneasy peace?
- How could that have been transformed into the deeper peace that God shows us the way to in Jesus?
- What ways could you seek the things that make for peace?