The Apostle Paul declares that in Christ, peace has been established forever on the earth. This is not the peace we describe as an absence of conflict, self-interest, or aggression. The battlefields of public opinion and fear do not overcome this peace. This peace finds its foundation in the vision of a Triune God for the earth and all its systems. “God is in Christ reconciling the world to God, and we who love God and know God, are the agents of that reconciliation and peace.” It is the “peace that passes all understanding,” that is found when we learn not to be anxious in times of fear, anxiety, and failure. We have learned to make our requests known to God so that this peace of Christ may surround, protect, and inform us in moments of crisis.
In the past century we have seen the cost of waging peace and ending oppression. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Menachim Begin, Anwar Sadat, and countless others have laid down their lives willingly so that the reconciling peace of God might come to the earth. Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela risked death to bring reconciling peace to South Africa. When change came, they proposed that peace would come through The Reconciliation Commission. This commission chose to allow the oppressors to tell their stories, then be granted amnesty so that their country might go forward unfettered by the violence of the past. The cycle of violence was broken in such a way that more deaths could not have been accomplished. Peace in South Africa is still a work in progress.
As a nation, we are perceived to be affluent and powerful, but other countries view us from the vantage point of abject poverty, hopelessness, and despair. We consume 40% of the world’s resources, and we use our power to police the world, while others view us as devils out for our own interests. Peacemakers always seem to be misunderstood as the life of Jesus makes clear.
Paul envisioned a world in which the rich did not have too much, and the poor had enough. We Americans may not yet have grasped this principle, though St. David’s has clearly understood this call and practices this sort of generosity. It is oversimplistic to assume that the current cultural and world moment rests solely on a redistribution of wealth and resources. A faithful church will wrestle with our stewardship of the resources entrusted to our care and give sacrificially.
We must wage peace. During World War II, Coventry Cathedral was destroyed by German bombs because there was a munitions factory in Coventry. In retaliation, England destroyed Dresden Germany, a peaceful city. As a witness to the call to reconciliation and peace, Coventry Cathedral did not rebuild the ruins. Instead, they carved in the altar “Father Forgive,” acknowledging their complicity with the evil of war, their participation in the evil, and their need for forgiveness. They created a peace fellowship with the people of Dresden as a witness to Christ’s victory over the instruments of death and division.
During the past two years many people at St. David’s, realizing the need to participate in the reconciling peace of God, have participated in The Episcopal Church program, Sacred Ground that explores the effects of colonization and our complicity with evil in this country. Founded on Scripture, faithful theology, and careful telling of the American story through the voice of all her people, it helps participants sit with people whom we have regarded as “other.” This is so we might hear their story and perhaps discover our own participation in suffering. The Acts church discovered it was essential to sit with those who were being converted throughout the then-known world to hear their witness of the life of God in them. After listening, the disciples drew the circle of God’s love larger to include the converted, because “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to them.”
To wage peace with compassion consistent with the vision of the Prince of Peace, we must find ways to live in Christ’s presence with those we have viewed as far off or even an enemy, until we see Christ in them. We will trust that the Christ whom we love will break down the walls that separate us, knowing that persecution is still a possibility. However, we will understand that the call on our lives is “to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.”
The Rev. Dr. Peter Stube
© Claudio Divizia: Coventry Cathedral and the Litany of Reconciliation “Obtained through Canva Pro License.”