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Related Bible reading(s): John 14.23-29

PostScript: What peace?

Jesus promises peace to his disciples, though not as the world understands it (John 14.27).

Introduction


The world is not at peace. You only have to watch the television news to know that. And many of us will have experiences of tension and conflict in our daily lives. Our hearts may be troubled, and afraid. So where is the peace that Jesus promises?


Context


Whether on an international, national, or personal level, peace is in short supply:

The Syrian peace talks have collapsed again, as refugees continue to flee from bombing, famine and terror

The EU was created in the aftermath of the Second World War, to guarantee peace and stability in Europe. But the founding vision seems in tatters, as Britain conducts a referendum on whether to leave, and there is no agreement on how to deal with the tide of refugees.

This week, for the first time in NHS history, striking doctors have refused to provide emergency cover. And the dispute shows no sign of resolution.

Many people are living with high levels of stress, from professionals – teachers, doctors, social workers, etc. – struggling with impossible workloads, to employees of Tata steel, BHS and Austin Reed fearing redundancy, to the shocking numbers of people who are not even sure where their next meal is coming from


Reflection


Jesus’ promise of peace is a vision, a hope, a belief, about the ultimate reality of human life. It is not an invitation to shut ourselves away from the world, or to escape into fantasy. It acts to inspire our decisions, our actions, and our relationships, giving us the courage to face difficult situations. A little later in John’s Gospel, Jesus prays to the Father, ‘I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world’ (17.15-16). We are called to negotiate a tricky balance between vision and realism, as we try to live in the world, but without succumbing to the world’s despair. We need all the encouragement and inspiration that the Advocate – the Holy Spirit – can bring.

Today’s gospel reading involves all three persons of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus promises that they will make their home with whoever loves him and keeps his word. Probably the most famous representation of the Trinity is Rublev’s icon of the three angels visiting Abraham. The icon radiates serenity, and one might therefore imagine that Rublev lived an untroubled life. But as the masterly film Andrei Rublev vividly depicts, fifteenth century Russia was anything but tranquil. It was amid the ‘muck and chaos’, including gruesome Tartar raids, that Rublev painted his vision of ‘peace, harmony, mutual love and humility’.

The ‘Peace Direct’ website has a selection of quotes about peace, many of which are worth pondering. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, for example, has said ‘If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies’.

One organisation working to enable enemies to talk (and play) is ‘Children of Peace’ – ‘dedicated to building trust, friendship and reconciliation between Israeli and Palestinian children, aged 4 – 17, and their communities’.

Peace is no use as an abstract idea; it needs to be embedded in shared experiences which overcome suspicion, mistrust and fear. Hence the need for football teams and musical instruments.


Prayer


Here is an invitation to spend some time with Rublev’s icon of the Trinity,
and to be drawn into its circle of love.


Come join us at the table:
rest your feet, your soul.
Don’t try to speak,
but catch your breath,
align your gaze with ours.
This is a moment out of time:
allow eternity
to seep into your veins,
before returning to your tasks.


Questions


  • How do you find peace?
  • How could you help someone else find peace?


Action


Sometimes peacemaking involves basic, down to earth solutions. Cord, ‘an international organisation inspired by the Christian message of fairness and peace’, came up with the idea of toilet twinning: ‘a simple loo brings immeasurable dignity, and takes people a step along the journey towards a life of equality, hope and peace’. Why not twin your church toilet?


Young people


There has been much (parental) discussion about whether violent video games encourage aggression. What do you think? How do you feel after playing a video game? Is there a difference between competitive and cooperative games in terms of the mind-set which they encourage? Share examples of games which develop positive skills and attitudes.



Ann Conway-Jones is joint Honorary Secretary of the Council of Christians and Jews.



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