The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
When anyone is united to Christ, there is a new world; the old order has gone, and a new order has already begun. From first to last this has been the work of God. He has reconciled us men to himself through Christ, and he has enlisted us in this service of reconciliation.
2 Corinthians, 5:17f. New English Bible
Understand that I’m not a pacifist by nature. I am thrilled by the sound of a military band and the pageantry of a parade will draw me to the edge of a curb. In November I am drawn to leaf strewn lawns framing a cenotaph. And along with others, I make an attempt to remember.
I’m just finding it harder to remember every year.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not losing my memory. At least not yet I’m not. I realize that what I am trying to remember is something I never knew. Glancing around the crowd encircling the granite obelisks etched with names of men and women who died before I was born, I wonder what it is that remembrance has become for us.
I remember, for instance, the sense of loss that the death of someone close brought me. And I can understand how others have endured that same loss as I. In wartime the loss is exacerbated with the lack of closure and the customary funeral rites that help us deal with our grief. For many, the granite column is all that touches the grief and memory and emptiness. Others stand beside them.
This year things are different. Besides memory of a past held by a few, there is the anticipation of a future held by considerably more huddled in the November damp. There is talk of war. And while on the one hand I smell blood in the air and my pulse begins to race; I have to tell you that I am ambivalent.
The militarist attitude of the moment has both shocked and horrified me. As a follower of Jesus, I find myself drawn to scripture that occasionally is read. “When anyone is united to Christ,” Paul wrote to the faithful in Corinth, “there is a new world.” He went on to add, “The old order has gone, and a new order has already begun.”
It was a small number that he wrote to. They didn’t pour out into the city square filling it after meeting for worship. Their numbers were sufficiently insignificant that they hardly were noticed. Most citizens would not have taken Paul’s meaning and as things were not appreciably different, they would have dismissed him out of hand. His pen wasn’t as weighty then as we ascribe it to be now.
On the other hand, perhaps not much has changed.
“From first to last,” Paul went on in his letter to the Jesus Community, “this has been the work of God. He has reconciled us men to himself through Christ.” Speaking to a divergent assembly of both Jews and Gentiles, each one could look at the other as people reconciled both to God, and miracle of miracles, even to each other. Differences and animosities and hatreds and fears and suspicions were set aside. They were remembered no longer. They were beginning to be forgotten!
But Paul went on to add, “And he has enlisted us in this service of reconciliation.”
I hear the stirring of the pipes when I read that verse. No less militant, it presents a new vision of reconciliation, and that we are enlisted in an active service to achieve reconciliation.
My feet shuffle on the damp grass, as I try to keep warm. I glance towards the elderly Legionnaires. I see the flags dipped in reverence. Cadets of the various Services stand focused while a Beaver scratches his ear unconsciously and then watches a stray bird soaring, gliding overhead and just off to one side.
And I am prompted to ask myself what has changed, if anything.
Caesar’s legions patrol no less than now. Justice and order are maintained. But what are we – followers of Jesus – to make of reconciliation? Does it extend and end with us? Do we extend it to others, different from ourselves? Are we aware of Paul’s admonishment that as followers of Jesus we, as much as those Jesus followers in Corinth, have been enlisted into a service of reconciliation?
General Romeo Dallaire discovered the painful truth of this in the aftermath of the Rwanda debacle, as extremist Hutus massacred over 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus. His voice challenges us to hear the good news of which Paul spoke. President Jimmy Carter is seen as well in the light of a person who worked diligently for reconciliation between old enemies, Egyptians and Israelis. Together, they demonstrate the truth of a new world, a new order!
These men were militant in working for peace. But they sought more than peace. The death of an enemy – either civilian or combatant – is a goal set by underachievers who neglect to take seriously the insight Paul shared with the Jesus followers in Corinth.
Silence over, I attempt to dispel the chill in the warmth of my car. As I drive away through the disbanded assembly of Remembrance Day, I pray that my efforts and yours will reflect the courage Paul inspires and that we will be satisfied with nothing less.
Copyright © 2002 James T. Irvine