We live in a world of conflict. Every day we see vivid pictures of violent conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, and other places. Bombs, bullets, catastrophic destruction of homes and communities, life-changing injuries and deaths, have become an integral part of our modern world. Men, women and children are helpless as they are caught up in violent conflict between some of the most powerful armies in the world using advanced weapons. What’s it all about? Often the parties to the conflict are motivated by a political or religious ideology that makes them hate their enemies and want to destroy them.
2000 years ago a young man rode into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey. The people spread their coats on the road and waved palm branches. They were acknowledging their King and looking to him for deliverance as they shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” The people hoped Jesus would deliver them from the Roman occupation of their land, but he was a very different kind of King. Within 5 days the same people had rejected him and handed him over to the Romans, who crucified him. Even his closest friends thought that that was the end, but on the third day Jesus was raised from the dead and today millions of people gladly live under his gracious rule.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Whenever the Christian church identifies itself with political powers, whether it be the Roman Emperor Constantine or King Henry VIII or the Russian government today, it compromises its allegiance to Jesus, it’s true King. His kingdom is not like the kingdoms of the world that use military power to advance their cause. His kingdom advances by peaceful means. Those who live under his rule find peace with God and a wonderful inner peace of mind and heart.
During a Sunday morning service on 11 December 2016 a bomb ripped through a section of Cairo’s main Coptic Cathedral reserved for women. Most of the 25 who died and the 49 who were injured were women and children. One of those who died was a young girl, Maggie Samir, and her mother was seriously injured. In an interview a year later Maggie’s grandfather, Abdo, said “I forgive the people who killed my granddaughter Maggie.” He said Jesus had taught his disciples to love their enemies, pray for them and be kind to them. The gracious strength and dignity of people like Abdo is a deeply-moving testimony to the life-changing influence of Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
Recent major news stories have all been about really bad things that are happening in our world today. In Syria the indiscriminate bombing of eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, has killed than 500 people in a week with thousands more injured. Women and children are hiding in basements while the White Helmets bravely try to rescue casualties. A Serious Case Review into grooming gangs in Newcastle has revealed the systematic sexual abuse of 700 vulnerable girls. A 19-year-old man gunned down 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and wounded others. Major relief agencies have disclosed cases of senior employees abusing women in countries struck by natural disaster.
The responses to these situations have proposed a number of helpful things such as a UN resolution for a cease fire, more gun control, seeking a better understanding of different cultures, better safeguarding procedures, transparency, and more training of relief personnel. But it seems clear that the problems of our human condition go much deeper and affect us all. As human beings we have both the capacity for great goodness and kindness and also the ability to commit acts of unspeakable cruelty and wickedness. Why do we all struggle with the darker side of our nature and personality?
The Bible teaches that human beings were created by God in his image but that our first parents rebelled against God by breaking his command. As a result of their disobedience sin and death became universal features of life in this world affecting all people. Our relationship with God has been fractured and we have a constant bias towards what is wrong. The fundamental problem is internal and has to do with our hearts, that is our inner desires and motivation. The prophet Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?”
The Bible also tells us that God has provided a solution to our deepest need. The prophet Ezekiel gave the people a wonderful promise from God, “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” The Apostle Paul experienced this great change as he was approaching Damascus on a mission to arrest and imprison Christians. He saw a vision of the risen Jesus and became a new man. Later he wrote, “Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”
Last week I was visiting the United States of America and landed at Miami on Monday afternoon. As I waited for my next flight news of the bombs in Boston began appearing on the television screens. People in the airport were shocked as information about those who had died and been injured emerged. The Boston marathon is held on Patriots’ Day each year and is one of the world’s biggest marathons. It attracts 20,000 runners, from all over the world, and up to 500,000 spectators.
One hour after the first runners completed the race, and many were still running, two bombs were detonated near the finishing line. 3 people died and nearly 180 were seriously injured. This was the first major terrorist incident in the USA since 9/11. The bombs were intended to cause maximum damage. Two Chechen men are suspected of being responsible for the bombs, one is dead and the other is in custody.
Events like this remind us of the uncertainty and fragility of our lives. None of us knows what a day may bring. As people enjoyed a happy holiday event in Boston in an instant, without warning, some were killed and many more were maimed through the actions of total strangers. The Book of Common Prayer burial service which is used at the graveside includes the words, “In the midst of life we are in death: of whom may we seek for succour but of thee, O Lord.”
Death is always an unwelcome intrusion into life, and especially so when it is violent and tragic. How important it is at such times to know that we can turn to the living God. He is a refuge and strength in times of trouble. Comfort from family and friends gives us strength, doctors and nurses can tend our injuries, the security services can deal with those responsible for the bomb, but only God can meet our deepest needs.
Just a few weeks ago many people in Boston were celebrating a greater event than the Boston Marathon. At Easter, churches were packed as Christians rejoiced in the resurrection of Jesus. He died and rose again to give us a living hope. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” His words speak to the people of Boston now in their trauma and sadness and also speak to us all amidst the uncertainties of our lives.