I was comparing some of the hymn books used in our churches and I started to notice a pattern. The later books no longer had as many of the hymns that contain war, battle, fight or armour imagery. So no “When a knight won his spurs” or “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory” and you should see what liberties have been taken changing “Onward Christian soldiers” into “Onward Christian pilgrims”.
Well that all started me thinking about the wars in various parts of the world: Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan, Myanmar, Syria and Afghanistan, to name but a few.
When he was Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams said that the whole weight human failure couldn’t extinguish the creative love of God. In an Easter sermon he said that conflict and failure are part of the human condition, but that Jesus’ death and Resurrection turns that on its head:
“We share one human story in which we are all caught up in one sad tangle of selfishness and fear and so on. But God has entered that human story; he has lived a life of divine and unconditional life in a human life of flesh and blood.”Rowan Williams
The lesson to be learnt from pain and conflict is that when people walk alongside each other and learn to really listen to other people’s stories and what drives them:
“to learn an openness to discovering things about themselves they didn’t know, seeing themselves through the eyes of someone else. What they see may be fair or unfair, but it’s a reality that has been driving someone’s reactions and decisions. It may well be based on misconceptions, on prejudice on ignorance of the situation that someone, or perhaps a whole community is facing. We all need to listen better to each other’s stories, however painful or humiliating that experience may be”Rowan Williams
The Resurrection doesn’t take away the reality of threat or risk or suffering; it’s just there and that’s one of the hardest things to accept. How can you or I feel ‘happy’ in a world so full of atrocity, aggression and injustice? How can you or I know ‘joy’ when we’re aware of our own failings, our own shabbiness, our own depression, in short the whole mess that our lives can sometimes seem to be?
There are no easy answers to these questions, but in reflecting on war and conflict I quickly came to the realisation that the conflict in places like Ukraine aren’t something entirely detached from what you and I do and feel in our own lives. It’s not just about a few places where bad people do terrible things to other (good) people.
I suspect that few of us aren’t involved, to some extent, in conflict in our homes and families, our work places, our neighbourhoods and communities and dare I say it, our churches. Yes churches are very good at conflict and schism.
So perhaps this Easter season as we pray for the people of Ukraine and other war-torn places, we might also do well to reflect on where we’re complicit in conflict in our lives and the lives of those around us. We might all be the better for it and our world can’t help but be a better place as a result.