This week the prophet Isaiah speaks to us again, this time about a feast, and he says this: “God will make for all people a feast of rich food, a feast of well matured wines… he will swallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of the people will be taken away from all of the earth.”
Powerful words and a powerful image of God’s reign of peace that speaks this week into our world where even as I write, more dreadful violence is raging in so many places. It’s a hard week, and one in which we would do well to be praying that these words of the prophet would be made real in so many parts of the world, not least the land that many people call holy.
If we are to pray this then we also need to remember that we are called to be peacemakers in a violent world, because one of the main ways that prayers are answered is through our commitment to be changed by our prayers so that we become something of the answer to them. So here is a thought about being peacemakers in a violent world.
One of the people I am deeply inspired by is Etty Hillesum, and she is pictured this week. She was a Jew in occupied Amsterdam in world war 2. She lived in a terrible and frightening time, and she, like so many of her fellow Jews, would go on to die in an extermination camp. But before she died, she wrote profound things about living in terrible times.
She tells a story of how she is stopped one day and shouted at by a young soldier who is demanding to see her papers and she fumbles as she looks for them. He is verbally aggressive towards her and in the moment, this reminds her how much power he has over her life. She smiles at him, shows him her papers and he shouts at her to go on her way. That night in her diary she writes that all she could think of was that somewhere in Germany there was a mother worrying about her son.
Etty has this profound understanding of living through a terrible time that means she is determined not to hate those who hate her and create this place of fear that she must dwell in. She says that if she were to hate the Nazi occupiers, then they would have won, for their desire is the create hate. She is a challenge and an inspiration to us as we live in a world that is becoming increasingly hate-filled.
In the teaching of Jesus, we read one of his parables that picks up on the image of the feast used by Isaiah. Jesus tells the story a number of times, but in one of the ways he tells it, it is not a feast where tears are wiped away, but rather a feast where power is used to fuel anger and hatred as those who are not seen to fit to be there are cast out into “the outer darkness.”
When Jesus tells this parable I think he is turning the teaching of Isaiah on its head to remind his listeners then, and us now, that it is all too easy to turn on people and to be angry and hate. In this version of the parable that Jesus tells I don’t think God is represented by one who invites to the feast, but by the one who is cast out at the end for not fitting in. For God is in all those whose lives are being torn apart by violence and power being used against them because of anger and hatred.
Peace-making means being like Etty Hillesum and not being drawn in by hatred. Peace-making means remembering where God is in all of this – with the ones who are cast out into the darkness of fear and violence and loss. For history is littered with those who claim they can be violent in the name of God, and that story is still being told.
But God declares that swords will be beaten into ploughs and Jesus teaches that we must love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Violence has no place in the world that God made. We must be peacemakers in our prayers and our actions and our words. For the only way that peace will come is if we believe that it can be made.
Pray this week for all those who are caught up in conflicts around the world. Particularly those in Ukraine, Yemen, Syria and of course the land that many call Holy. Pray that those who mourn and fear will be comforted, that those who have power will use it wisely so that a way of peace will be found. And we pray for ourselves that we will work for peace in everyway we can until the day when tears are wiped away from all faces, and the disgrace of the people is be taken away from all of the earth.
If you want to talk about anything here, or anything at all, please send us a message and we’ll get in touch as soon as we can. I’m off on study leave this week, so will be back in 2 week’s time.