In 1918, at 11 o’clock, on the 11th day of the 11th month, the sound of gunfire ceased and what we now know as the First World War ended. The trouble is we know – not least from the addition of the title ‘First’ – that in 1939 the world was at war again. So what are we remembering this month? Victory over an enemy and the end of 4 years slaughter? Or the deep folly of humanity that too often resorts to violence to solve disputes?
As Christians, we are only ever asked to remember one thing: the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. To his followers, shortly before his own death, he said: “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” Jesus offers a promise of peace, but not peace as understood by the world, which is too often just an armistice, but a lasting ‘shalom’ such as the world cannot give. The worldly peace is not to be mocked – it is better than conflict. In the midst of life today who would not want a moment of quiet? Worldly peace is good: the peace of a spot in nature – beautiful and serene; the peace of a mother and child – tender and gentle; the peace of an absence of conflict – where there are no guns or drones. But that is not enough. We long for more and we need more. We need to know that even in the midst of turmoil there is a rock, which can shelter us; a place where we can nurture and raise a new generation without fear; and a power that can spread it’s wings over us and keep us safe.
In Hebrew ‘shalom’ (which we inadequately translate as peace) is much more than the absence of things that disturb us. Shalom is rather linked to the concept of wholeness, of being “at one” with God, with our neighbours, with ourselves and with creation. It is not only an absence of war but an absence of the things that cause wars: greed, hate and fear; along with their children: injustice, intolerance and prejudice.
Shalom is not only an absence of pain and distress (morphine and valium can numb such things) but of having the disease that causes the pain and distress cured.
That is what Jesus was about when he walked among us and this is what the Church is about today as we continue the ministry of Jesus. Jesus was and is one who heals the disease rather than one who simply masks the symptoms. Jesus was and is one who builds a new world, a new heaven, and a new earth rather than simply trying to fix the old one.
So on Remembrance Sunday this year I will commemorate the ending of the First World War and give thanks that the slaughter ended – at least for a while. I will remember our call to be peacemakers and I will remember 50 young people and their leaders who, in the summer, declared:
We don’t believe in way
We don’t believe in conflict
We don’t believe in violence
We believe in shoeboxes and food parcels
We believe in peace
We believe in reconciliation
We believe all you need is love.
Young People who took part in the International Youth Partnership Week – July 2018
Russell J Furley-Smith