“Blessed are the peacemakers”
Sunday 25 November 2018
Today, as I said at the beginning of the Service, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. It is a fairly recent addition to the liturgical calendar. It was celebrated for the first time in 1925 – less than a hundred years ago.
The surprising thing is why it took so long for the Church to recognise the Kingship of Jesus in the liturgical calendar. You would have thought that it warranted special recognition ahead of events like the Beheading of John the Baptist and the Birth of Mary of Nazareth which have long been in the calendar. After all, the name of the feast is really a tautology – Christ the King could be said as the King the King, or Christ the Christ, because Christ means the anointed one, the king. Jesus’ kingship has never been in doubt from the earliest days of the Church.
So even though the feast of Christ the King is a late invention, the kingship of Jesus is basic to our faith as Christians. And over what kingdom does Jesus reign? The kingdom of God of course. Another name that is sometimes given to the kingdom of God is the reign of God.
So what does the kingdom or the reign of God look like? How is it different from the world as we know it today? I would say that it is drastically different. Jesus emphasised the difference in the Sermon on the Mount and in his parables where he gave us a whole raft of teaching about what the kingdom of God is like.
One of the best summaries is expressed in the words that we refer to as the Beatitudes which outline who are the winners in the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely* on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This morning, I would like to reflect a little upon the notion that peacemakers are blessed. I do so in the knowledge that the world is far from at peace, and in the light of the level of militarisation that has already occurred and that is threatened by world leaders for the future. A good starting point for our reflection is the meaning of the word peace. I guess we have a tendency to define peace a little negatively. Peace is the absence of war and conflict. But how might we conceive of peace a little more positively. What is the peace of the kingdom of heaven likely to look like?
If we look at the word peace in the Old Testament, it usually is translating the Hebrew word ‘Shalom’. But that is not the best translation in some ways because the Hebrew word has a whole spectrum of deeper meaning. When everything is in shalom, there is a wholeness and rightness about things. It is a very expansive word with the connotation that everything is as it should be. When God completed the work of creation in the Book of Genesis, we are told “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good”. In other words, all was shalom – whole and right and at one with itself as it should be.
Through human sin, this state of shalom was broken and continues to be broken by our own frail lives down to our own day. But God’s kingdom will see the reinstatement of shalom when Jesus reigns and God is all in all.
And so the peace that we as peacemakers should be searching for is not just the peace of the absence of war, but the peace of God being at one with us and we at one with God – true shalom. This intimacy and comfort between us and God is expressed rather surprisingly by D H Lawrence in a poem called “Pax” – the Latin for peace, in which he compares a cat by the fireside with our relationship in peace with God.
All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.
Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.
Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
as of the master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.
In a similar vein, the American Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, encourages us to see genuine, expansive peace as rooted in our relationship with the God who brings true peace to every aspect of our individual lives, not just the absence of war.
Peace is our legacy, our mandate,
as alive today as ever,
more in need today –
in a nuclear world,
a world of starving peoples –
Benedictine peace, however,
is not simply
the absence of war.
it is a lifestyle
that makes war unacceptable
and violence unnecessary.
It is not a lifestyle dominated by control
and a plethora of rules.
It is a lifestyle
that forgoes violence
on every level,
for any reason.
“The Monastery of the Heart”, p.208/209
And so as we celebrate the kingship of Jesus, let us take some time to pursue true peace in our lives by finding it firstly in the depth and commitment of our relationship with God who is our Father and creator, who conceived a world in shalom and who calls us back to his side and to a place in the kingdom where true peace abides and from where the peace of the world will emerge.
Let us pray for true peace:
O God, who would fold both heaven and earth
in a single peace, a great shalom:
Let the design of your great love
lighten upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows;
and give peace to your Church,
peace among the nations,
peace in our dwellings,
and peace in our hearts;
through your Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ the King. Amen.
Fr Allan Paulsen