ENDURING PEACE?

FAITH IN FOCUS: ENDURING PEACE? 

Peace is something that everyone is in favour of. And it comes as a comfort to hear that the very first reading of the Church’s cycle of scripture at the start of Advent is the good news that God has promised peace to the world. Isaiah tells us that weapons of war (swords) will be melted down and turned into food producers (ploughshares).

Yet we do not live in cloud cuckoo land. We only have to turn on the TV to see that this Advent is no more peaceful than any other. Far from it. The enduring peace of God’s everlasting justice is being sought with weapons of war and innocent people are dying in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Peace cannot be imposed on any people or nation. It has to be felt and yearned for. When a nation is defeated and it signs a declaration of end to hostility, the work only just begins. That’s because peace is more than the absence of conflict. Peace is living with justice for all sides. Without tackling root injustice we only create what at best is a temporary truce.

Isaiah speaks of the “mountain of the Lord” being a place where the Law, God’s plan for humanity, is proclaimed and dispensed. Each year Christians recall that Christ came as the embodiment of that promise of peace and justice. But we don’t simply recall it as a past event, something which took place in the past. We recall it to remind ourselves that it is our responsibility and duty to make it a reality in our own day.

As this year unfolds we will gather at worship to ask the Holy Spirit to transform our lives through the action of the liturgy, so that we may become signs and vehicles of that peace which God alone can offer the world. God’s peace is more than tolerance and multiculturalism. It is that deep down sense of wellbeing that comes from knowing that we are held in the palm of God’s hand and we are doing all we can to ensure that others experience his infinite love through the way we treat them.

So Advent is not about remembrance. It’s about active recommitment to making the Son of Man present in our world through the way we live justly.

 

THE THREE CROSSES

FAITH IN FOCUS: THE THREE CROSSES

 Today’s gospel tells us that on the first Good Friday there were three crosses on Calvary. They were the cross of sin, the cross of sorrow and the cross of salvation. The one that we choose for ourselves will affect where we spend eternity.

The cross of sin belonged to the thief who was unrepentant. We don’t know what his crime was (traditionally we say he was a thief) but we do know that he was there to be executed. His life of crime had hardened him and he clearly could feel no remorse for his sin. He was so far from God that his cynicism lasted to the very end. He even mocked Jesus, suggesting that if he really were the Christ he would be able to get down from the cross and save them too. His choices in life were such that he didn’t know how far he had fallen. His sin had blinded him to reality.

 The cross of sorrow was the one on which the other thief hung. Unlike his fellow criminal he recognised his own guilt and felt contrition. He knew that he deserved what he was getting while Jesus had done nothing wrong but was suffering the same fate. His act of repentance took the form of standing up for Jesus and rebuking the other thief. Although he had led a life of crime he was not proud of it and he still had respect for God, something he tried to point out to his companion. Even at this late stage there was still a chance for him to try and set things right.

 Of course, the cross of salvation was reserved for Jesus of Nazareth. His crucifixion was a great paradox because although he was being executed, after being falsely accused, his death would end in victory. He had never claimed to be King of the Jews, as the inscription on his cross proclaimed, but he would end up as Christ the Universal King. His cross was the means by which he took the world’s sinfulness upon himself in a glorious act of atonement. He willingly accepted to be the sacrificial victim, loving to the very end those entrusted to him by his Father. It was this salvation that he offered to the repentant thief moments before they were both to breathe their last.

 The cross of sin, the cross of sorrow and the cross of salvation: we each have a choice. Which will you choose?

 

DAILY SIGNS

FAITH IN FOCUS: DAILY SIGNS

 

We don’t need to look to the future to find signs of the end of our world. It’s happening every day before our very eyes.

 When Jerusalem was destroyed, the Jews’ world was destroyed along with it. We have the same sort of experiences in our lives. We experience the end of many things and the loss of many people in a lifetime. The physical world as we know it can be destroyed by flood, hurricane, fire or earthquake. The whole earth does not need to be destroyed, just our little part of it, for us to know what Jesus is talking about.

 Our social world can be destroyed by final arguments ending in divorce, being disowned by family, shunned or treated as an outcast. Our political world can be destroyed by war. Our economic world can collapse due to depression, recession, or unemployment, not to mention famine, hunger, disease and epidemics. We live in many worlds or spheres of meaning, and any of them can collapse at any moment.

What Jesus is giving in today’s gospel is not a script for what will happen in some future era. It is a symbolic account of how all created things will come to a climax under the judgement of God. We’ve already seen stars falling from the sky, persecutions, famines, revolutions etc. They happen each day. The important thing is how each generation views these normal things and how we learn from them.

 It is possible to become so wrapped up in transient things (like the people admiring the beauty of the Temple) that we forget the purpose of our existence and we lose sight of the daily signs. We are here to serve God by serving each other. This is what we will be judged on. Will we stop living, loving, caring and giving when the end of our own little world comes upon us? Will we see the wars, famines, earthquakes etc as a wake-up call for Christian action or just something to watch on our TV screens andthen talk about the next day?

 Disasters, whether personal or global, are opportunities for growth. They summon us to ask the deeper questions about why we are here and how God intends us to respond. We can join the doom-mongers and the armchair commentators, or we can show that our faith has endurance and can bring good out of evil.

 

FAITH IN FOCUS: DEAD OR ALIVE?

FAITH IN FOCUS: DEAD OR ALIVE?

 Jesus had less than a week to live when the events of today’s gospel took place. So it’s perhaps not surprising for him to be talking about life after death and teaching against the Sadducees that there is a resurrection that all created flesh will share in.

 Because the Sadducees didn’t believe in a resurrection they tried to trick Jesus into giving a stupid answer to their farcical case of a woman who was the surviving widow of her husband and six brothers-in-law. Whose wife would she bein heaven?

 Yet this is the sort of question that many people ask even today. Will my dog be with me in heaven? Will I recognise people I’ve known here on earth? What will happen if I come face to face with someone who’s been my sworn enemy? What about my best friend who doesn’t believe in God? And what if I don’t like it?!

 Perhaps the first thing that we must say about heaven is that it’s the fulfilment of all our desires and yearnings for God. Jesus enticed his listeners by saying that no eye had seen nor ear heard what God has in store for us. It goes far beyond what we could ever imagine or hope for. We see God face to face and as we gaze on his glory we are moved to the profoundest level of love, a love which leaves no room for any kind of emptiness or regret.

 The second thing that we need to remember is that God is eternal, just like the life he offers us. We necessarily live in time but God’s eternal nature means that he experiences infinity at every moment; in fact “moment” is too restricting for a God who exists free from the boundaries of time. After our resurrection we share in that “instantaneousness” of God. We are caught up in the immediacy of God. There is no yesterday or tomorrow about heaven. It’s an eternal “now”.

 When we view heaven in this way we realise that many of our questions and difficulties about it are simply man-made and woman-inspired. We naturally have a tendency to tie things down to our own experience of reality. Yet today Jesus tells us that the afterlife is radically different from some of the ways we conceive of it. That’s why he says that the Lord is God not of the dead but of the living: for to God all people are in fact alive.