Isaiah 11 1-9
Phil 4 6-8
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds….
or as Jesus promised his disciples,
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you: not as the world gives do I give to you….
This has been a remarkable year, a year when the desire to remember has led us not only to reflect and commemorate but also to learn and discover – to rediscover what earlier generations knew about the First World War and those who fought in it and so to learn more about ourselves. Last night’s concert at St Christopher’s included readings from letters written from the front by men from Haslemere – letters whose air of jaunty courage and understatement didn’t quite conceal the threats and risks of daily life in and around the front line. These letters, along with the photo placards in St Christopher’s garden, the wreaths for the fallen on so many gates and buildings around the town, the flower festival with its focus on local men and local experience, have all reinforced the sense that war is something immediate and real, not a view of a distant place on a screen in the background of our lives. Of course, recent wars – Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East – have involved local people, and there are many charities and initiatives working to help those with injuries just as terrible as any inflicted in the Great War, but the opportunity to develop a sense of shared experience with that centenary generation has been very special.
And now it is nearly over, formally at least. Along with the whole nation, with France and Germany and Canada and the US we have remembered, commemorated, honoured those who fought and those who died, built barriers against forgetting. What happens now? What kind of a world will it be when in 21 years time we reach the centenary of the beginning of WW2? Will we have done better this time? will there be peace on earth? What do you think?
All our remembering, all our not forgetting, needs to lead us in one direction – towards a world where peace is a reality. during this year I’ve been concerned from time to time that the focus on WW1 has not left space for us to be fully aware of current conflicts – in Yemen, in Syria, in Afghanistan, Mexico, Nigeria, DRC, Myanmar,,,,,,,,,, We need to grieve for these as well as for our own dead…. I want to say that we need to be active in working for peace…..
But what do we mean by peace? Is it simply (simply!) the absence of war? As part of their work for Remembrance some of the children at St Bart’s school reflected on peace, and many of them used words like quiet, calm, relaxing, solitude. (I thought I detected the influence of the great children’s book Five Minutes Peace, by Jill Murphy). These are wonderful things, but I think the picture of peace that Isaiah gives us is more wonderful, not least because its dynamic, active – not about bad things that don’t happen, but about good, life enhancing things that do….
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.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;.
In other words, these natural enemies will sink, see past, their differences, will understand their deeper unity, and will be able to live together in peace. How hard this would be God knows – for the animals Isaiah lists, for Sunnis and Shias, for Palestinians and Israelis, for Christians and Muslims, never mind Brexiteers and Remainers, Republicans and Democrats…. it requires moment by moment self-control in speech and action that can only come from understanding of all that we share – and from love.
Isaiah’s magnificent description of the peaceful kingdom is contained within the vision of a God of justice and compassion
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
…. with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
It seems clear from history that humanity can’t manage to achieve peace in its own strength alone. Even now our own country, like the rest of the world seems more divided, more on edge, more at risk, than it has in most of our lifetimes. What can we do? Where do we go from here?
No certain answers! But let’s not forget the lessons learned this year – lessons of courage and sacrifice – and let’s search for the ways to apply them that will make a difference. I believe that we can do that best by trusting in God to help us and show us the way. And, to come back to the verses I began with, the results may not look like we imagine or expect…. after all, the peace of God passes all understanding, and the peace that Christ gives isn’t the peace the world gives or expects…. we need to pray and trust and love and work for the earth to be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
And for the courage and sacrifice of those who have gone before us to be honoured by the world we create together.