Dear Friends: 

During this season of remembrances, before the beginning of Advent, we are asked by Scripture to stretch out our imaginations to the places on earth which have become hells of starvation, exploitation, conflict and disease.

There is a Far Eastern School of Buddhism known as Pure Land.  Pure Land becomes a descriptive name for what the Buddha taught about the secret of living being release from the bondage of sensual desire, in all its plethora of manifestations. Christians and Jews, too, have many descriptions of a pure land: an Eden, a Paradise, where ‘pain and sighing are no more’.  The American Spirituals are full of longing for the other shore, beyond Jordan, where our pain will be eased.  It is a matching of the biblical words, shared as in so many cases with the very masters who cause the suffering, with that hope which the proverb tells us, is life.

But in between the hard reality of lives lived in both the rich and the poor worlds of our one Globe,
Scripture has many sobering words sung and spoken in the name of the One God.

Amos, the prophet who insisted that he was not a religious time-server but a labourer in the fields,
hears that God’s day is to be a terrifying surprise.  God rejects our liturgies unless they are
founded on a justice that is like pure land water, which abundantly refreshes all the people without discrimination.

At the beginning of this century, well before the current ‘war on terror’, people were encouraged to look back: to leave behind cruelty, poverty and debt, the wreckage of our beautiful landscapes.  These were the poor things which had always been with us in our history.

Hear, then, St Paul as he writes to the Church in Thessaloniki (1 Thessalonians 4) with these watchwords: ‘live quietly in the new land’.  Ages of Terror inspire words like those in the Book of Common Prayer evening collect:  ‘May we pass our time in rest and quietness’.  ‘Live watchfully’,
just as we teach our children to cross dangerous roads.  Act, too, like the sensible bridesmaids, who didn’t want to miss the party through being sluggish.  St Paul, in teaching wakefulness, well knew that nobody had seen the moment when God recreated the world in Joseph of Arimathea’s garden.  God came ‘like a thief in the night’.  It is a metaphor for what is always re-made in our prayers of longing, when the Holy Spirit sighs within us.

Early Christians, representing the banished children of Eve, were learning to live out the effects of resurrection from inside the day of the Lord, the day of darkness, as Christ’s body had lain in the obscurity of the tomb.  They were invisibly being changed.  They did not fear the future any more.  The change was within themselves and their relationships towards what the New Testament calls communion (koinonia).  Membership of Christ’s body, which once lay in the heart of the darkness of the impure land, means membership of the resurrectable, sharing a changing vision of the globe.  Here, instead of debauchery, idolatry, cruelty and luxury, members feasted on simple things:  bread and the fruit of the vine – the fruit of their own labour.

We are familiar enough with the forces of evil.  Indeed the last century’s wars and the violence of this century – quite apart from other wickedness – contrast sharply with the goodness God desires from hispeople.  So much that is wrong in this world, bringing suffering to its people, is beyond our comprehension.  Certainly it’s beyond our individual abilities to halt the torments of the forces of evil and change them for good.  War has no place in God’s Kingdom.  But sometimes war has seemed inescapable.  It has been justified as defence, or as the strong protecting the exploited and vulnerable.  That is why the Church, over the centuries, is developing teaching about the ‘just war’.

There is, however, an essential truth to which we must cling. It is that Jesus, by his sacrifice, defeated the forces of evil.  It has been this conviction, down the ages, that has given hope to all who believe. By Jesus’ death on the cross, human sin was taken away.  It is this victory which has enabled those who trust God, known in Jesus, to stand firm against all wickedness.  It is this which gives the confidence that, in God’s time, we will see that good has overcome evil so that there is peace for all.

With every blessing:

The Revd Nigel Young