“Would that you, even you, had known the things that make for peace!”
These words were uttered by Our Lord as he gazed on Jerusalem, the City of Peace; the hope of a long estranged people, the harbor of faith, and the place of the mercy seat: the Temple.
Would that we, even we, should know the things that make for peace.
But we don’t.
Jesus words ring not only as a lament for His Kingdom’s namesake city, but also for all cities. Who has known the things that made for peace?
The philosophers of countless ages have sought through political, rhetorical, spiritual, and scientific inquiry to establish what made for peace. They have held up moderation, good habits (ethics), political structure, moralism, relativism, fascism, communism, democracy, republics, monarchies, empires, tribes, clans, families, and egoism, amongst any number of other ideas and tactics to achieve peace.
The substantial instigating plot element of the Avengers movie series has been a simple little mantra, perhaps only explicitly voiced in Ultron by Tony Stark: “Peace in our time”. The promise of the end of war, political prosperity; universal health, wealth, and justice for all. The films then play out the consequence of that hope, and beg audiences to debate over whose version of achieving piece, or at least pursuing the good of mankind, is more soundly premised in “Civil War”.
But I digress; this isn’t about the Avengers, but good storytelling does stab to the heart of human worries and cares.
What then can make for peace? In recent memory the internet has been flooded with news stories of violence. Whether incited by terrorists, madmen, gangs, crusaders, or those we trust to protect us, there doesn’t seem to be a time when we are not regaled with the tales of the atrocities our race can commit.
At every turn the internet rises up to combat these crises; whether it does so with despair, anger, vengeance, calls for change, or with self-righteousness depends mostly on whether or not the atrocity has the right tags or threads to incite a given group. We are informed more and more vehemently that it is not acceptable that such violence occurs, and that something must change or we will face increasing peril.
The cry rings out ‘Peace!’ and the silence echoes back ‘how?’
We all sit in consternated fury, knitting our brow and reveling in how wrong everyone is about what is wrong with our country, the world, and everyone else; all the while begging the same answer as those we disagree with. We yell, ‘No! Peace!’ and the silence greets us with a low demonic ‘ha, how?’
We, because of our ready access to a panoply of humankind and a wealth of its news and stories, see the death wreaking havoc on every hand. All of our plans and schema fall away and we see the one abiding law of this world: All things are dying.
It’s a dominant theory, expressed in the law of thermodynamics. Many renowned physicists project an inevitable end to all life in the universe, although we can’t pinpoint when. Entropy defines every creature. We want law, but we ignore the one abiding law of man: he dies. We cry for peace, but we always strive for it with swords and barbs against our own brothers. We want change, but we, given time, revert back to the same systems and corruptions, across human history.
We look to the actions of a few foolish, scared, deceived, or evil men and say “see! We can no longer trust them, one of them killed someone!” As if we expected to find a human being capable of not sowing the seeds of his own destruction. We want to make the whole only as strong as its weakest link but we fail to recognize our complicity in expecting anything more than weakness.
If only, we say, we knew the things that make for peace!
We have chosen our bed, and are laid to rest thereupon. The first death amongst mankind came not to the first man Adam, but to his son, Abel. Our race marked our path in the curse with the blood of our brothers, and we have spilled that blood ever since. The blood of our brothers screams from the ground, begging the heavens for justice.
We stagger under the weight of the guilt of tragedies of our world. Any man’s death diminishes us, because we are involved in mankind. The bell has always tolled for us and every knell calls us to our own funeral. We are dead and lost with all the world, caught up in our nature with the Devil and all his band.
But, why would Jesus even ask this of Jerusalem? Why weep for this sad and depraved creation fallen so far from His divine command?
“Would that you, even you, had known the things that make for peace!” Jesus says, standing on a hill outside the city. This is the beginning of Passiontide, and Jesus is entering the city knowing the bloodthirsty rabble waits inside for him. Knowing that they, even they who beg for deliverance from oppression, will turn on their True Brother, shedding His precious blood all the way from the Praetorium, through the streets, onto the bloody hill of Golgotha.
Jesus knows the things that make for peace. He mourns the city that would not know her God, and then enters to be the Prince of Peace. Not by bringing about a restored glorious kingdom of Israel, not by preaching a message of defiance against evil, but by offering a sprinkling of Blood that would speak better things than that of Abel. The city named peace rises up in furor and strikes the Masters heel. The hill of the temple, where people no longer sought peace, was traded for the blood-stained place of the skull.
Our Peace was suspended between earth and heaven, outside the city gates. He was forcibly removed from the place of peace; ejected from the temple mount, the very presence of God’s abiding mercy, and was left to suffer all of Hell’s torments.
Peace died on the cross, surrounded by vagabonds, scoundrels and foes, amid the deriding jeering of his enemies.
But Peace, our Peace, did not stay dead.
Our Lord, Jesus Christ, having laid down His life as a perfect peace offering, takes it back up again to reign forever as our King. Christ knew the cost of peace. It was not a brilliant philosophy; or a great war to end all wars; or even a team of supercharged altruists ready to save the day. What made, makes, and will make for our peace, is His Sacrifice. Our homes were plagued with Death, but Christ has marked the door with his Blood. Our Paschal Lamb was sacrificed for us, not so that we could strive to perfect creation, but so that we would have strength for our Exodus. This world is not our home, and these trials are fleeting.
We do not mourn as those who have no hope. We do not offer the condolences of dying men. Our death is only the gateway into life immortal.
And so we pray. Do not mock those whose only response to tragedy is prayer. They do more in their love and hope than any planning and scheming for policy or revenge. We call out for love, but the only love to bring us lasting peace is the love of Christ. It is in His Love that we trust. He knows the things that make for peace, and He offers them to us openly: Be washed, renewed and named; Hear His word; Speak the words He has given you; Take, eat and drink. Receive a meal without price, which no sower sowed and for which no laborer labored. His cup runneth over and all of the world is invited into the wedding hall, all is made ready. Here, at last, is Peace.