This was a special service for Peace Sunday, and took place amidst an installation of hundreds of origami cranes. We'll be sharing more from the installation later this week, so watch out for that.
Today is Peace Sunday, celebrated on the Sunday nearest to the UN International Day of Peace, which is observed on 21 September each year. It’s a moment when the world is challenged to reflect on and commit to the things that make for peace. Of course we want more than one day of peace a year, but it is a reminder that no matter what has happened in the previous three hundred and sixty five days, the world has the chance to reset its priorities away from conflict and towards peace. For us as a community of faith, Peace Sunday reminds us that if we welcome Jesus as the Prince of Peace on Christmas Day, we shouldn’t then forget that when we follow him for the rest of the year. It’s a chance to reset our own priorities and recommit ourselves to being people of peace.
Peace as a principal is at the heart of the gospel. Jesus may have said that he came to bring not peace but a sword, but he seems to have been predicting the divisive mess we would make of things, rather than expressing his purpose or intent. Throughout his ministry, he broke down barriers and built up the oppressed. He resisted the use of violence, rebuking Peter for drawing his sword and healing the servant he had injured in trying to defend him. He promised peace to his disciples in the last meal before his death, and the first reunion after his resurrection. And declared that blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
But peace does not begin or end with the gospel. The verses we heard from Isaiah tell us that peace has always been God’s vision for creation, and it is a peace that is not just the absence of conflict but the flourishing of all. And we see that vision come to its fulfilment in Revelation, where John sees the new heaven and the new earth and declares that “God will wipe every tear from their eyes [and] there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” It can be hard to believe in such a vision when there is still so much pain and suffering in the world, but we are not helpless and so we do not have to be hopeless. We can help realise that vision by being people of peace.
So what does it mean to be people of peace? The theme for this year is everyday actions for peace, because peace is built through all of our actions, big and small. Peace can seem like an impossible challenge, but as I told our Messy Church on Friday, there are lots of little things we can do to make the world more peaceful where we are, and those little things can become big things, like ripples from a stone dropped in a pond. Peace can come through welcoming the stranger. Through offering a friendly ear when someone is troubled or in pain. Through daring to dream that weapons can be turned into ploughshares and calling those in power to share that dream. Through speaking out against prejudice and discrimination or highlighting the impact of war on the climate. To be people of peace is to be people who understand that our everyday actions are important, and use those actions to make whatever peace we can.
One of the main ways that people have often acted for peace in times of war, or in moments or places of violence, has been to choose a different way of living, creating countercultural movements and communities. Ex combatants in Columbia have formed peace communities, and using the global legal protection this designation brings, they refuse to allow any weapons to pass through, creating space for families to flourish. Individuals in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine have all refused to be conscripted into their armed forces, some because they oppose this particular war and others because they oppose all wars. People in the United States join with others to stand up every time a shooting happens and challenge local politicians to act on gun control. All these actions risk standing up against rich, powerful, vested interests. Yet all have the potential to sow a little peace in areas of conflict and pain.
Such actions require us to be firm in what we believe and do, and stand not as individuals but in community. We are stronger together, and it is easier to face opponents with louder voices and more influence when we know there are others standing with us. That is why movements around the globe have grown up to support people to live out their faith. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, whose material we have been drawing on this morning, was formed more than a century ago to support people who wished to walk a path of peace when the world was talking war. It was not created to be a holy club excluded from the world, but to offer love and support to people as they spoke for peace. Since its foundation it has grown groups around the world and the global Fellowship of Reconciliation family now has eight Nobel Peace Prize nominees in its history. Small pebbles can make big ripples.
I’m not sure what I imagined when I first had the idea of creating an installation of origami cranes, but it soon became clear that folding a thousand of them could not be a purely personal meditation. Peace can only ever be a shared effort, and so it was right that I invite others to join, and it has been wonderful to have so many hands making and offering cranes, and to see the installation grow over the past few days. Together we have created a vision and a hope of something. My prayer is that this vision and this hope will fly like cranes out of the building, swooping over our world and transforming it into God’s dream of peace on earth and goodwill for all.