Back in May I went to Wadjemup as Chaplain for the first time. As you surely know, it was a profound experience; deeply moving, challenging, and super creative. And when I got back, the gospel reading that Sunday was the familiar and comforting words, ‘peace I leave with you…peace I give to you…do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’. And I preached what I have now named in my head, The Gospel According to Wadjemup – Chapter One.
I asked the question, what does peace look like to an island, a country, built on colonialism, domination and oppression? How do we find peace there, or here?
I’d immersed myself in the stories of that holy island. I heard the cries of history and felt the deep wounds of its past and it was loud… and yet, I was able to spot this tangible sense of peace. Despite itself, or maybe even because of its history, that place is dripping with peace. And I think, that is the essence of Jesus’ promise.
Peace is not the absence of war. It is not just silence or quiet. Peace is profound and counter cultural. It is the port in the storm, the centre of the tornado, the sense of calm when everything falls down around us. It is the sunrise and sunset and lapping waves on the shores of Wadjemup, against the backdrop of its brutal history. That is peace.
This past week I have been back on Wadjemup again, this time with a dozen pilgrims, and the gospel reading is, once again, about peace. Kind of. So, now hear the gospel according to Wadjemup, Chapter Two.
‘Do you think I came to bring peace to the earth?’ Jesus asks.
Well, yes Lord, I do.
Isn’t that what the angels proclaimed at your birth – Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth?
Aren’t those the first words you breathed on your disciples after your death – peace be with you?
Wasn’t it with the command of peace that you calmed the storm and sent the demoniac away healed? – peace, be still.
Is it not the gift you left with your disciples – my peace I leave with you?
‘Do you think I came to bring peace to the earth?’ Jesus asks. ‘No, I tell you, but rather division’.
No? Come on Lord, you can’t renege on that promise. Can you?
What do we do when Jesus seems to change his mind about something we have been relying on, depending on? Because that’s what seems to happen here, am I right?
Do you know, in the gospels, Jesus speaks of peace twenty-four times. And only twice does he say he hasn’t come to bring peace at all; he’s come to bring division or a sword. But that doesn’t help us when we are faced with that time…
The gospel according to Wadjemup, chapter one, was dependent on God’s provision of peace. It was the only thing that made sense of the ugliness of its history and the beauty of its present. And now, Wadjemup chapter two messes things up. Peace is gone, division reigns, households are against one another, families are falling out and we are called hypocrites.
How can both things be true – how can Jesus come in peace and come to cause division – and that reminded me of moments from our pilgrimage.
Uncle Neville – an aboriginal elder from our parish – came with us to the island. We began with a smoking ceremony and sand ceremony at the water’s edge. He told us the noongar people have complex feelings about how we can best move forwards. Decisions are trying to be made about what to do with the Quod and burial ground. He was confident he could do whatever he chooses in that place because it is his…but others might not agree with him.
In the afternoon we took ribbons and tied them to the padlocks at the site where countless people were incarcerated and hanged. We tied ribbons to the bars of the earliest prison cell. We tied ribbons to the branches of trees at the unmarked graves. Those ribbons were inoffensive really; a symbol of prayers said, and blessings given and hope for the future. But I spotted the anxiety of the tour guide who sat at the prison cell – she didn’t seem that happy about these pilgrims and their ribbons. We came in peace but there was also this kind of underlying division.
You see, chapter one taught us that peace is the port in the storm, and the centre of the tornado, but sometimes we are called to step out of that port, right into the storm. Sometimes we can’t stay in the centre of the tornado – we must brave the wild bits. And I think that absolutely brings division.
Remember the iconic man, named Tank Man, who stood in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square at the end of the siege in 1989? I was thinking about what his family thought of his act of defiance when it was broadcast across the world. Did his act, intended for peace, bring division – father against son, mother against daughter? And what about the families of Martin Luther King and Oscar Romero and countless others? When they stood up for what they knew to be right, and paid with their lives, did their families hate it?
And what ripples are you prepared to make? What is more important to you than keeping the peace in your family? Following all of Jesus’ teaching is hard friends. It’s not all plain sailing and not everyone will like us or it. It got Jesus killed, and many of his followers since. And here he is asking the same of us.**
‘Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?’ Jesus says.
Judging what is right, and choosing to do it, is our call as followers of the Christ – even when it brings division, even when it splits family, even when it costs us our whole lives. Seeking peace that way feels a lot like ‘not peace’ and yet it is asked of us here.
The gospel of Wadjemup, chapter two asks us the important question: will we choose to do what is right over what is peaceful, even if it costs us everything?
May God give us grace to do so. Amen.
** at this point I went off script and began ad libbing about how we are not called to be merely ‘peace keepers’, but rather to commit to the radical hard work of peace building. Peace keeping is collusive but peace building is what we are really called to do – regardless of whether people will like it, or not, or whether it will lead to some kind of division…