Sermon for Solemn Evensong & Benediction Sunday 11 November 2012
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
I sometimes think that we have a sort of misplaced romanticism and Christian ideology which leads us to believe that the peace which comes from our belief system is always and wholly good; that the peace which prospers in the world is “just”. We are of course inspired by Christ to pursue peace in his name, to enjoy peace within the community, but that is perhaps a different outworking of peace than that which comes directly from him or which can be found through him or ultimately revealed in him.
In our Gospel account from John, Jesus is taking leave of his disciples and says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you”, remember that it is out of a moment of supreme peril and distress, that Jesus makes this declaration for the good of his friends. He is set on a course to return to the glory of the Father but through death, and in the knowledge of this purpose, he utters Peace, Shalom. Just as a dying friend might on their deathbed reassure those who will be left behind, so Jesus reassures his followers. So this is no conventional farewell, “Peace” or Shalom. This is a peace which he offers to convey within his circle of followers, that there is to be in them an “absence of fear” or any “annoyance of heart”, either because of his departure, or for the future which they will face in his name. The peace which he pursues for humankind is bound up in his destruction, at least that is what it looks like. The confidence that Christ leaves, is for the church to continue to find faith and hope in him and in the promises given. We are to find courage and strength to be different through the blessing he leaves us with, which for now is his peace, a peace which is not as the world gives. So to the church, eliminate the troublesome ideas and fears which vex, hinder and distract us, follow Christ and fear not your witness to him and for him.
There is perhaps a good reason why our Lord can confidently say, “I do not give to you as the world gives”, because the peace which we enjoy in human understanding is in a sense for many based on fear and oppression where genuine resolution is rare, and where we simply manage our tribal and argumentative natures in order that we might see, even survive another day.
For we live in time where peace in an entire industry and a process of compromise, and where it is on the whole, managed and enforced. UN Military Peace keepers are a good and immediate testimony to this. But to look to the past and the present, I am reminded first of the historical and theological account given by Orosius.
I am sure you are all familiar that in ancient Rome, the main Temple of Janus stood in times of peace with its gates closed, and in times of conflict and war, with its gates open. Janus being the two faced God simultaneously looking to the past and to the future. With the closing of the Temple doors being a very rare event. It is said that they were only ever closed a handful of times, over several hundred years. One of those occasions, was at the birth of our saviour. Orosius writes that the gates of Janus were closed 1 BCE, and remained closed for no less than twelve years, throughout all of our Lords childhood. Perhaps as some suggest, this tells more about Orosius’ theological than historical interests: during the twelve years of Christ’s childhood, the Romans were involved in several wars (e.g., in Germania, where they suffered a famous defeat in the Teutoburg Forest). But whatever the reason for the gates being closed, within our Lord’s time, peace was claimed by the imposition of the Roman State to keep order. Peace was achieved through the rule of fear, through the oppressive and mighty arm of Rome wielding its order.
Yet if we look to the past ten years and at some of the writing of the political commentator Douglas Murray, he sees peace lasting in Northern Ireland as a delusionary hope. For out of conflict, he suggests, one side has to win and one side has to loose and learn how to behave. Murray suggests that in Northern Ireland, there was no Victor, so no one has had to amend their argument or ideology, no one had to learn that they were wrong. So in his mind, peace is temporary and may well be short lived.
But I think I will never forget what Nicholas Frayling uttered from this pulpit. For the Christian, we recognise that “The Peace of Christ, begins with Praise”. There is something radically different in the peace which we receive from Christ, which is not a peace of human origin which the world gives. To praise God means that we for a moment at least, stop looking towards one and other as the solution to our ills and troubles, and we fix our eyes on him, the creator, the originator of Peace; the one of whom we say, the peace of God which passes all understanding…, for there is in his forgiveness and blessing no looser, we don’t have to concede anything, it is not a false truth, rather we are to become everything that he hopes for us. So the peace which Christ offers nurtures, it doesn’t diminish. It enlivens us to fulfil, rather than fall fully from grace. It loves, and it enriches and is to be shared.
As Rowan Williams suggests in The Truce of God, “Our peace is only authentic, it seems, when the world’s peace has been broken, exposed as false; when the passive consensus favoured by Caiaphas has been so upset that it brings out its latent violence against whatever disturbs it. Jesus’ peace can only happen when such a crisis has been provoked. His own uneasiness, unpeacefulness, is a kind of persistent questioning: just how much of the truth can the world bear without arming itself?”
So Jesus takes leave of his disciples says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you”, out of a moment of supreme peril and distress, Jesus makes this declaration for the good of his friends so that we might know how the world really is, and how he illuminates the falseness and idiocy of romanticism gone wild, believing that we can ever attain peace without God’s blessing.
Jesus is set on a course to return to the glory of the Father through death, and in the knowledge of this purpose, he utters Peace, Shalom. Let us turn our eyes from one and other, and look to him, who gives what is true. “The peace of Christ, begins with praise”
Sermon preached by Fr. John Pritchard