Archives for posts with tag: war

This is Passion Week: from the volatility of Palm Sunday to the violence of Good Friday. I call Good Friday Armistice Day—the day that Jesus put an end to the need for animal sacrifice in worship and also the need for human sacrifice in war.

The Reformation was an important time of church reform but the dark side of the Reformation was that it was also a time of unbridled violence involving the old and crumbling Holy Roman Empire and numerous smaller jurisdictions: German principalities, various independent city states, and unorganized peasant groups—all of them aligned with some reforming and protesting branch of Christianity. Perhaps the most infamous of the violent events was the Munster debacle, climaxing on Easter, 1535. It was a tragic and terrible event that illustrated the extremes of the Anabaptist movement.

Although the Munsterites may have been on the fringes of Anabaptism—a radicalization of a radical movement—the events at Munster became very influential in shaping the theology and practice of Dutch Anabaptists for generations to come. Munster was a defining moment even if it was something to react against. My theory is that the terrible violence at Munster was instrumental in forming the strong pacifist theology of Menno Simons and subsequent generations of Mennonites.

Consider Menno’s own words: “After this happened [the bloodshed at Munster] the blood of these poor misguided sheep fell so hot on my heart that I could not stand it. I saw that these zealous people voluntarily gave their lives and possessions for their [false] faith and beliefs… while I myself continued in my comfortable life simply in order that I might enjoy physical comfort and remain outside the cross of Christ.”

After much agonized soul-searching Menno left the safety of the priesthood and joined the fledgling Anabaptist movement. He wrote about his developing convictions: “Christ is our fortress; patience our weapon of defense; the Word of God our sword; and victory a courageous, firm unfeigned faith in Jesus Christ. And iron and metal spears and swords we leave to those who, alas, regard human blood and swine’s blood about alike.”

And what of the violent debacles in our world today? The situations are much more complex in a global society but some of the roots are the same. Do these situations break our hearts the way the Munster debacle broke Menno’s heart?

Memory is one of the primary handles we have to the roots of our faith. All people of faith have immediate experiences of transcendence but even those experiences are built on the foundation of memory. Memory keeps the significance of past events relevant and meaningful for the present.

On Remembrance Day the country we live in asks us to remember the sacrifice of soldiers who died and are dying in battle. You may have family members who died in Europe, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

As a peace church, we also remember the service of conscientious objectors to war. I remember my father-in-law who served as a cook in a mining camp during WW2. Perhaps you may remember relatives who were escaping the horrors of war in Eastern Europe, or some who were not able to escape. We also remember Christian peacemakers such as Tom Fox, who died in the line of duty. He was serving in Iraq with Christian Peacemaker Teams during the Iraq war and was captured along with three other peacemakers.

The most foundational memory for the church is the remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We remember the Christ-event. Our living memory of this event is indeed a subversive act of peacemaking. The passion of Christ upset what is often seen as the ultimate last resort of conflicted human relationships—the myth of redemptive violence. Throughout our culture, from entertainment to government, we are bombarded with words and images that “might makes right.” But in Christ, the threat of death and violence no longer have the ultimate power. Jesus’ death and resurrection destroys the effectiveness of killing and war. Love and Life are the most powerful weapons in the world. They are the weapons of the church. This is how the church works to build a community of peace around the world.

“Armistice Day” was the original name given to a national holiday in 1919 to remember the First World War as the “war to end all wars.” The sad irony is that Jesus already fought the “war to end all wars” two thousand years ago. Armistice Day was when Jesus died. On Remembrance Day we remember the horrors of war and the millions of men and women who have died, but let us also remember the sacrifice of Christ. “Lest we forget…” [and thus repeat the horrors of the wars of history] goes the familiar line.

As we remember the peacemaking work of Christ we are grateful and also motivated to participate in the ongoing work of peace in our homes, communities and our world. “To remember is to work for peace.” Jesus showed us that war does not have to be the way to resolve differences or promote human values. Only the way of peace leads to peace.

What are you remembering today? Recent events in our community or country? Loved ones who who have died? A person or situation that needs God’s peace? What are you remembering? I invite you to light a candle of remembrance and pray for peace for that person or situation in our community and our world.

We remember…
Jesus Christ who was born into a world of violence with the announcement: Peace on earth!
We remember…
Jesus Christ whose way of peace and love so infuriated the powers of the day that they killed him with a violent death upon the cross.
We remember…
Jesus Christ who had all the power of God to resist violently yet chose to give his life rather than take life.
We remember…
The resurrection of Jesus that disarms the power of death and proclaims the power of love.
We remember…
The example of Jesus and we pledge ourselves to follow in the way of peace.
Amen.

[This was presented as an opening meditation at our college “all team meeting” this week]

New things I learned and experienced this summer #2

milchsuppe monument

The Protestant Reformation occurred in a time of spiritual, economic, political, and social upheaval. Along with fresh winds of the Spirit blowing during this time, there was also unfortunately a lot of unnecessary blood spilled. Various jurisdictions in central Europe proclaimed their territories as either Protestant [Reformed or Lutheran] or Roman Catholic, and it seemed that the only way they could think of to resolve differences was to take up arms.

In 1529 the Catholic canton of Zug and the Reformed canton of Zurich lined up for battle in the beautiful pastoral countryside of Kappel in northern Switzerland. As the neighbouring peasants who were conscripted into the army squared off, it seems some of them began to recognize those on the other side as fellow human beings—neighbours. They began to wonder, “Why are we killing each other? We farm next to each other… why can’t we all just get along?” They decided to have a peace treaty signed with a meal. The Catholics from Zug brought the “milchsuppe” [milk soup] and the Protestants brought the bread; they ate together and went back to their farms. The “Milchsuppe” marker [above] stands there today on that spot to mark this occasion.

Unfortunately, two years later the leaders on both sides became antagonistic once again. There were accusations and killings and war was again declared. The great reformer and leader in Zurich, Ulrich Zwingli, was killed in the second battle of Kappel. Also unfortunately, rivalries between Catholics and Protestants have continued in the centuries since then.

How are we doing today? There have been some historic meetings in the last few decades where apologies have been made, forgiveness granted, and reconciliation has begun, involving Catholics, Protestants, and Anabaptists. Some of the old animosities and rifts between Christians are indeed melting away. As a peace activist has said, “Let the Christians of the world at least agree not to kill each other.” And as Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples if you love one another.” Sigfried Bartel, a WW2 veteran turned peace activist, said, “It’s impossible to love someone while you’re pointing a gun at them.” Instead, let us eat together; it’s a good way to build a relationship and maybe even avert a war.

I preached a sermon on Matthew 5:38-48 recently and used this story as an illustration.

August 18, 2013 How to be a perfect Christian by Gareth Brandt