The pursuit of peace is perhaps one of the most fundamental and most primal urges of humankind. Throughout our evolutionary history humanity has sought after peace .. whether with one another, with our environment or with our God .. the need to be reconciled and at peace is fundamental to our happiness and well being. The pursuit of peace within ourselves, with one another and with our God is a theme which is threaded through the Bible and its account of humanity’s need for a Prince of Peace. I wonder if you are seeking peace in the same way?
On this Sunday each year we take time to recall that this endeavour in human history has often seemed to come at great cost .. this cost during the world wars is recalled in the prayer we have already used in this service.. to remember those whom God has gathered from the storms of war into the peace of God’s presence ..
It is the presence of storms and conflict both within our hearts and minds and in the nations, which is the source of our yearning for peace … the presence of conflict, uncertainty and discomfort is the catalyst for our deep need for peace. This truth gives me some comfort in my journey through life. For what we are saying here is that we all have a deep need for peace which has been shared throughout human history but that our religious tradition, the message of Christ, is that we need not let violence and terror and darkness lead to despair. This in many ways is the symbolism of the poppy …
During the First World War much of the previously beautiful countryside of Western Europe was blasted, bombed and fought over, again and again. The landscape swiftly turned to fields of mud: apparently bleak and barren where little or nothing could grow. A moment in time when we might have despaired of the absence of peace in our world and of the catastrophic impact of violence and division.
But we know in very little time the bright red Flanders poppies, those delicate but resilient flowers began to grow in their thousands, flourishing even in the middle of chaos and destruction. A symbol of hope, a symbol of resilience, a symbol that sacrifice was the price for the continued human endeavour of pursuing peace.
You see the power of the scarlet poppy is that it grows naturally in conditions of disturbed earth .. it is in fact the very impact of unsettled and broken ground that caused the conditions of growth in this case. And this morning I wonder if that might be the Christian message about the true nature of humankind too. That in order to grow and flourish we need times of both conflict and peace?
The message of the Bible is certainly not one of unconditional peace. Conflict and struggle within and without is at the heart of its discourse on how we find meaningful peace. A sense that it is in the midst of darkness and violence and division that humanity might find its peace … and not in the absence of such things.
This is the message of Christ incarnate (which means God as part of humanity and not separate from it) a message we will celebrate in the weeks ahead .. the Christmas story of a saviour who brought peace through joining us in our pain, experiencing his own pain, the pain of conflict and violence and rejection. The pain and anger of fear and doubt in the face of the chaos in this world. Christ met with the consequences of political leaders who are unjust, religious leaders who are insincere, friends who would betray you . Jesus experienced all this .. the storms of life .. and yet spoke words of peace to all .. even those who would have him killed and dismissed.
This morning we remember then that our personal pursuit of peace in our hearts and minds .. our desire for comfort and rest is a common human urge which we share one with another. That our desire for peace in the world has been shared throughout generations and none more so than in the lives of the fallen during the 2 world wars. It is the peace that Christ talked about throughout his life and in His death.
Perhaps it is this shared need for peace which leads the Christian faith to teach us to love our neighbour and our God. Because in this shared experience it is within our capacity to give one another that gift of peace. The deep message of the Christian tradition is that in the midst of chaos and suffering we can offer one another the hand of peace through our actions … but that this will often be sacrificial.
Jesus said in his final days .. my peace I give to you .. this was not a temporary peace, it is not a peace found in the absence of fear and doubt and pain .. it is a peace which trusts in the truth that peace comes but at a cost. I think it is summed up perfectly in the words of a modern hymn by a singer songwriter called Michael English:
“To every life there comes the question of the heart
That in this world there is extraordinary pain
Struggle greets you on the mountains that you climb
A war within the soul – for every step you gain
Remember when the winds of sorrow strike you down
And leave you hopeless and afraid
The proof of battle is the wounds that you will bear
The scars that build you strong for the journey that you make
There’s not a victory without a fight
There’s not a sunrise without a night
There’s not a purchase without a cost
There’s not a crown without a cross”
It is the the sacrifices made in times of conflict .. that build the peace we seek .. and it is in the gift of love one for another that peace can be found for us all!