Easter 2 – Acts 4:5-12; 1 John 3:16-24; Luke 24:36b-48
The risen Christ is the vision of peace for this tragic world – Martin Little
The international events of the last few weeks have meant that, if we’re not already sleeping a little less easily in our beds, we certainly should be now.
A callous and barbaric chemical attack in the town of Douma in Syria.
A callous and barbaric chemical attack in Salisbury, of all places.
President Trump’s bragging about US military might on Twitter, of all places.
And sometime in the dead hours of Friday night, the US, France, and the UK launched over 100 missiles at military targets in Syria.
Trump hailed the airstrikes as ‘perfect’; Teresa May, mindful no doubt of the Chilcot inquiry, had her legal defense ready to go. Meanwhile, the Secretary-General of the UN reminded us that there is “no military solution” to the crisis in Syria.
And so the world holds its breath and wonders, ‘what on earth next?’
I don’t doubt our diplomats are telling the truth when they say they’re doing ‘everything they can’ to find peaceful ways forward. Neither do I underestimate the difficulty. But there is one thing that I think is missing. In both the slog of diplomacy and the uneasy recourse to violence, I have yet to hear articulated what we really need: a vision of peace.
I’ve said before that I consider myself a pacifist. I’m happy to unpack that term further, but fundamentally, what I think being a pacifist means is that I have a vision of peace. Though it seems incredible, though it seems unbelievable, I believe in peace.
Too many pacifist groups offer little more than protest and critique – and some descend to propaganda and anti-military smearing. All of this is very frustrating. Peace is so much more than the absence of war. Peace is the presence of something so precious, so transcendently good, that it renders war obsolete. That is what we lack in our world today: a vision of peace worth not fighting for.
But all is not lost. There is such a vision, and it goes a little something like this:
“While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ (Luke 24:36)
The risen Christ is the vision of peace for this tragic world.
When we read accounts of Christ’s resurrection appearances, they can seem, I think, simply unbelievable. We can get caught up with questions about exactly what kind of body Christ had, whether or not the resurrection was some psychological phenomenon, or grand conspiracy – the kind of questions that get Bishops into the Daily Mail! We feel uneasy about the Resurrection, because it seems, at one level, unbelievable.
In a similar way, we feel uneasy about advocating peace, because it seems unbelievable. But, if I may be permitted to get a little shirty this morning, I’m tired of the believable. Actually, I’m sick to the back teeth of the pragmatic, the simpering, the expedient, and the compromised. I want something unbelievable to believe in. Something – someone– so captivating, so mind-blowing, that I break my weapon across my thigh, and fall to my knees.
It is right that images of Syrian children screaming and hyperventilating should spur us to action. These images constitute a vision of death – of hell – so abhorrent that we can’t bear to look, but we can’t look away. The only thing that can overcome such a barbaric vision of war is not more war, but an infinitely more beautiful, more captivating vision of peace.
In Jesus we see most beautiful, the most innocent, the most… inestimable of lives.
In his passion and cross, we see that life ravaged by the most brutal of regimes, and crushed in the most sickening of deaths.
And in his resurrection appearances, we see that life standing before us in the most audacious and bewildering of forms: a death-conquering God-man, a new creation, forged from the old in the fires of the wonder and pathos of God.
This life, this Jesus, comes into our midst this very morning and what are his first words? ‘Peace be with you.’
Christians who say that pacifism is far-fetched and unrealistic, may I remind you that we believe God raised Jesus from the dead?
If Christianity is not idealistic, not unbelievable, then I don’t want one bit of it. Ours is a radical faith. Christ’s refusal to meet violence with violence, to meet hate with hate, is what undoes the world and lays down the path of love.
Within the cycle of violence Christ rises like an iron bar thrust into the spokes.
Between attack and counter-attack, Christ rises.
Between perpetrator and victim, and the victim who becomes the new perpetrator, and on and on and on – in the midst of all that, Christ rises.
He is the vision we need: peace among us, peace-made-flesh.
How should we respond?
Among those first disciples, Luke details a whole range of responses – from fear and blind panic, to incomprehension and superstition.
And then, in verse 41, Luke gives us a wonderfully ambiguous sentence: ‘while in their joy they were still disbelieving’.
‘While in their joy they were still disbelieving.’
This gets to the heart of the vision of peace that I think we need in our violent world today.
You see, there are two kinds of disbelief. There’s the kind of cynical and closed-minded disbelief that refuses new insight and new information with a kind of pig-headed entrenchment. I’ve been that guy! I remember once getting a mark of 49 for an essay, when I’d got a 72 [an A in the UK] the week before. I experienced disbelief all right! And it was a painful little lesson in pride coming before a fall.
But there’s also another kind of disbelief. There is the kind of disbelief that is born of joy. This kind of disbelief is a kind of overwhelming – a captivating. It happens, as we comfortably trot through our lives, suddenly we are unseated by joy.
The birth of a child comes pretty close. Falling in love is another. The sublime in the natural world is, for many, where we feel it.
This kind of joyous disbelief is not the absence of evidence. It’s the presence of more evidence than we can handle. It’s an overwhelming of amazement, an overflow of awe. It’s to witness something so powerful that we respond: ‘I can’t believe it!’
‘This is (literally, for once) in-credible!"
It’s not easy to believe in the risen Christ. It’s not easy to believe that there could ever be an end to the Syrian war. But believe we must, for the alternative is despair.
And so, unbelievably, the risen Christ helps us glimpse a humanity beyond death, beyond hatred, and beyond retribution, beyond airstrikes and Novichok. The dead Christ alive: opening his hands, wriggling his toes, saying ‘look and see’, munching lip-smackingly on a lump of fish! He offers us a vision of what could be. He offers us a vision so unbelievable that it might just be true.
And so if you’re sitting this morning feeling incredulous, feeling like it’s all a bit far-fetched, well then God bless you! You’re on the right track. You’re beginning to encounter the joyous unbelieving – the ‘incredible’ faith - that the risen Christ provokes. All you need now is there in verse 46:
‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.’ (Luke 24:46)
That’s how we respond to the risen Christ, both in Luke’s Gospel, in paper and ink, and in our midst this morning, in spirit and truth.
That’s how we respond to the brutality of this tragic world. As we encounter the risen Christ and welcome his offering of peace, so he inspires us to live out repentance and forgiveness – both on the small stages of our daily lives, and on the international stage too. The vision begins here – with repentance and forgiveness of the person next to you in the pew. And it ends? … well, it never ends.
It’s idealistic. It’s unrealistic. It’s unbelievable. But it might just save the world.