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Peace Be With You

For my holiday reading, I have been absorbed by a book called “Undaunted Courage,” an account of the Lewis and Clarke 1804 expedition to open up a route from St Louis to the Pacific Ocean.  They set off with a broad remit to promote trade, to record the botanical and zoological discoveries of the new world, to open up what they hoped would be a water route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and perhaps, surprising to us in the light of the later history that we now know all too well, they wanted to make friends with the local (Native American) then to them Indian populations.  The key commodity in those days was fur.  A beaver skin, trapped by a native and bought by traders for a handful of glass beads, would sell for a fortune in Paris and so there was a lot of money to be made.  To assure the success of this trade, President Jefferson gave instructions to befriend all Indian tribes, to assure them of the “American’s” peaceful intentions and especially to try to promote peace between the various groups.

For the second week running, we have a Gospel story of Jesus appearing to the disciples.  Last week, Jesus on both occasions, initially without and then with Thomas present, stood among those gathered in the locked room and said “Peace be with you.”  Today’s meeting is between the Apostles who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus who have returned to Jerusalem to tell their friends what had happened and “as they were talking about this Jesus himself stood among them and said to them ‘Peace be with you.’”  We will echo this story again shortly in our seasonal introduction to the peace immediately before communion.

I have been struck by the repetition of this greeting, “peace be with you”, all the more so because this week we have heard of the apparent (and I expect almost certainly deliberately engineered) breakdown of the cease fire arrangements in Syria negotiated in good faith by Kofi Anan.  Here we are, it seems, two thousand years later and no better at being peaceful now than then.

Now, Lewis and Clarke’s reason in the nineteenth century for wishing the Indians to be at peace with one another was economic.  The Indians could not understand why they should not continue age old enmities.  Their society was male and hierarchical.  Their chiefs were absolute leaders, arbiters of life and death and to become a chief was the dream of every young man and to become a chief you had to be brave and courageous.  If there was peace between the tribes, how could any young man hope to demonstrate courage, bravery, fearlessness, and become a chief they asked?  And in a parallel way, the fighting in Syria has to go on because to stop would threaten the security of those in power.  True to many areas at war, the fighting appears more interesting than not.

Imagine though a world without conflict; no wars, no standing armies, no weapons of destruction and no military.  We spoke in the years following the collapse of communism of the “peace dividend” and even if we have seen some reduction of arms expenditure, this is nothing compared with the benefits of the peace that Jesus was urging, proclaiming to those around him and greeting them with on each occasion.

For Jesus speaks of a deep spiritual peace, a love for one another that in this model society would be instinctive, as blood deep as the Indian’s perfect understanding of what it took to become a chief, we would be unable to imagine any other way of living together.  Not simply an end to war but an end to antagonism or threat in every way.  Imagine that, consider the amount of money, energy, effort and time that is spent, not only in prosecuting violence, but even more in defending ourselves corporately and individually from the perceived risk of harm from others.  If we knew, really knew that we would all love one another, that our persons, families, friends and perhaps even our possessions were safe, we could live in a completely different way.  We could liberate resources enough to obliterate want, poverty, hunger and much human misery for ever. 

Peace be with you - Amen.

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