A very warm welcome once again to the unique Festival of Music and Liturgy at Edington. This year the Festival is dedicated to peace and reconciliation. I chose the theme a year ago, but in the light of recent events it has turned out to be more than a little appropriate. As I write there is war or civil war in three parts of the Middle East, in Indo China, in North, South and Central Africa, in Central America, in Italy and in Spain. We have a civil war here in the UK and we have just been involved in a costly and bloody war in South America. And as if that weren’t enough, there are many, many places in the world our world, the home of the human race – where there is violence, oppression, torture, injustice, inequality, inhumanity, exploitation, and endless human suffering. Even in the few places where there is a measure of individual liberty, the individual has little power to affect governments’ decisions to spend vast amounts of money on instruments of death and mass human and natural destruction. The Brandt Report pointed out that what the world spends on armaments in a week would feed the world’s hungry for a year! Meanwhile, the people with the greatest power and influence to change the situation – world political and religious leaders – have seemed to remain divided, distrustful of each other, fearful of change, closed to the opposite view.
However, there are strong signs of hope. Largely by-passing the politicians, movements have sprung back into life in many countries, demanding to be heard. Press coverage has been scant, but recently it has been impossible to ignore the larger demonstrations, the best publications and the more inspired and concerted speakers and statements. People all over the world want to destroy the stock-piles of offensive and defensive weapons which stand in the way of peace and brotherhood among nations. Religious leaders have been more sensitive to this movement than political leaders. The disarmament issue is discussed in diocesan letters and parish magazines all over Britain. There is general agreement that disarmament should take place, despite disagreement as to how.
Then just after Christmas, the European meeting of the Taizé community was held in London. Twenty thousand people came to London from all over Europe, and joined thousands of Londoners and British visitors in a week of common prayer, reflection, and discussion on peace and reconciliation, in the Church and in the world, and how it can be achieved. The monastery at Taizé was set up after the war in France, and was dedicated to Christian unity. The brothers come from a wide variety of Christian backgrounds, and all pray together three times a day. In many ways it is like a traditional monastery, except that in the last ten years or so young people have been flocking to Taizé in their thousands, and the community has developed a special mission and responsibility for them. In his Letter from Warsaw, which was first circulated at the London meeting, Brother Roger, the Prior of Taizé, continued to expound the themes of reconciliation and peace, and began to suggest how these could be achieved – by ‘anticipating reconciliation within oneself’ and by making the most of the best gifts present in the common Christian tradition.
“Capitivated by the mystery of the human condition, are you aware that Christ opens, in every person, a path of hope? With you he opens a way even through your inner contradictions: fears and joys, doubts and trust, revolts and forgiveness … Abandon yourself. The Risen Lord has placed his confidence in you. He offers the healing of divisions that, in the Gospel, bears the name of reconciliation. Yes, find repose in God alone, in his peace. How else can you discover, day by day, what he sets ahead of you! …
“Peace. It begins both within you, and also in the places where you live … In the ocean underlying everyone, somewhere within the human being, there is an expectant waiting, never interrupted, or lost. It comes from God. Even for the person who does not believe, this expectation is present, implicitly. For the believer, it is hope for the unseen. It is also, for the Christian, the contemplative waiting of Christ Jesus who loves, prays and reconciles within us. In this ardent waiting, all who listen to God, by day and by night, receive the reply: peace.
“… A life of communion with God is not some sort of personal feat. It does not take place in dreams, suspended between heaven and earth. Far from forgetting others, you live it in the midst of real-life situations. You rediscover the contradictions of the human condition in present day societies with their dominant features: fascination with possibilities of power, success by any means.
“You are eagerly waiting for the frontiers that separate peoples to be brought down. Going to visit each other: what a festival! Unless we know each other, how can we let confidence and sharing be born; how can we heal divisions, be reconciled; how can we join the Risen Christ in his pilgrimage through humanity as the Crucified Lord? Until the end of time he remains beside all who are going through times of trial.
“You refuse to support sacred egoisms, whether those of a continent, a race or a generation. You wish that an equal confidence be shown to all the peoples of the earth, not just a few. To redistribute material goods between North and South, to heal the breaks between East and West, you know that there is an urgent need for authenticity, for integrity: who – whether a political leader or not – could call for peace and not achieve it within him – or herself?
“… Peace and reconciliation can come about only in the depths. No one, believer or non-believer, can achieve it if they remain at the surface of things. As for reconciliation between Christians, it too can only come about in the depths; then it is built on the rock of Christ, and not on sand. Some people from an Eastern European country wrote: ‘We can sense that, in all that has occurred, Jesus can send his Spirit and that it is all a preparation for a new springtime of the Church. Even a person without means with no exterior possibilities, can do this: in small communities, with his brothers and sisters, with Mary and the Apostles, pray in expectation of the Spirit. That is our vocation at present, to pray that the people of God may become a contemplative people.’ And others from the East recall the words of Christ: ‘I tell you: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you’ (Luke 6).
“… Reconciliation between Christians is not in order to be stronger against anyone, but to be a ferment of reconciliation and confidence for believers and for non-believers, too. Christians would withdraw into themselves if that passion of Christ, reconciliation, did not open out to a passion for peace and reconciliation in the entire human family.
“… Rise up. The Risen Lord is passing by, close to you. He clears a path of love. He prepares the healing of divisions, and makes you able to live a parable of reconciliation. Go. From now on you are a ferment of confidence for those both near and far … and the unexpected happens.”
Since the London meeting, news has been relayed from Taizé of the enormous number of letters and visitors arriving at the community, giving evidence of the efforts of thousands of people to follow the advice of Brother Roger, and to attempt to put into practice the effects of peace and reconciliation in their own lives.
Finally, the most recent sign of hope for me has been the effect of the Pope’s visit to this country. Although he came ostensibly on a pastoral visit to the Roman Catholic flock, his words and actions were plainly addressed to all Christians here, and there is no question that even non-Christians were deeply impressed, even moved, by his ideas and his personality. Because of this, and because of the war with Argentina, the words peace and reconciliation once again were constantly on his lips. For example, at Coventry he said:
“We are close to the city of Coventry, a city devastated by war but rebuilt in hope. The ruins of the old cathedral and building of the new are recognized throughout the world as a symbol of Christian reconciliation and peace. We pray … ‘send forth your Spirit, 0 Lord, and renew the face of the earth’. In this prayer we call upon God to enable us to bring about the reconciliation and peace not simply in symbol, but in reality too.
“Our world is disfigured by war and violence. The ruins of the old cathedral constantly remind our society of its capacity to destroy. And today that capacity is greater than ever. People are having to live under the shadow of a nuclear nightmare. Yet people everywhere long for peace. Men and women of goodwill desire to make common cause in their search for a worldwide community of brotherhood and understanding.
“What is this peace for which we long? What is this peace symbolized by the new cathedral of Coventry? Peace is not just the absence of war. It involves mutual respect and confidence between peoples and nations. It involves collaboration and binding agreements. Like a cathedral, peace has to be constructed, patiently and with unshakeable faith.
“Wherever the strong exploit the weak; wherever the rich take advantage of the poor; wherever great powers seek to dominate and to impose ideologies, there the work of making peace is undone; there the cathedral of peace is again destroyed. Today, the scale and the horror of modern warfare – whether nuclear or not – makes it totally unacceptable as a means of settling differences between nations. War should belong to the tragic, crazy past, to history; it should rind no place on humanity’s agenda for the future.
“The voices of Christians join with others in urging the leaders of the world to abandon confrontation and turn their backs on policies which require the nations to spend vast sums of money for weapons of mass destruction. We pray … that the Holy Spirit may inspire the leaders of the world to engage in fruitful dialogue. May the Holy Spirit lead them to adopt peaceful ways of safeguarding liberty which do not involve the threat of nuclear disaster.”
And when the Pope was at the Chapel of the Martyrs of the 20th Century, the Archbishop of Canterbury talked in similar terms:
“Millions are hungry and the sacred gift of life is counted cheap while the nations of the world use some of their best resources and much of their precious store of human ingenuity in refining weapons of death.
“But Christians do not accept hunger, disease and war as inevitable, the present moment is not empty of hope, but waits to be transformed by the power which comes from a lively vision of the future.
“Remembering our beginnings: celebrating our hope for the future: freeing ourselves from cynicism and despair in order to act in the present.
“We have a common vision, which also breaks up the lazy prejudices and easy assumptions of the present … Our own century has seen the creation of ruthless tyrannies by the use of violence, and of cynical disregard of truth. We believe that such empires, founded on force and lies, destroy themselves. The kingdom spoken of by our Lord Jesus Christ is built by self-sacrificing love which can even turn places of horror and suffering into signs of hope.
“If we remember that beginning in Jesus Christ our Lord, if we can face the suffering of travelling his way, if we can lift our eyes beyond the historic quarrels which have tragically disfigured Christ’s Church and wasted so much Christian energy, then we shall indeed enter into a faith worthy of celebration, because it is able to remake the world, thanks be to God.”
It seems extraordinary that, within a few months, three great Christian figures have spoken on British soil, and with a large degree of agreement about important human issues which affect us all. We ignore them at our peril!
Christians seem to have one major advantage over other thinking, questioning, caring people in the West. They can go a stage further than protest and demonstration dissatisfaction and hope for improvement. In any given wrong situation there is almost bound to be, within the Judeo-Christian tradition the seed of a suggestion as to how it could be different. What to do to change it. How things could be. Must be. That’s what marks religious people – hope. A solid foundation of hope.
The structure of the Festival this year is in many ways simpler and more traditional than last year. There was a lot of uncertainty a year ago. The Festival had lost money. Ralph Dudley, who helped to found the Festival, was leaving, and nobody knew if there would be a new vicar, or when. So I decided to reduce the numbers of participants somewhat, to ensure that, come what may, the Festival would be manageable. Now there is a new vicar here at Edington – Maurice Bird – and on behalf of everyone who comes to the Festival, I give him a warm welcome.
There is one new feature: I have often felt the need for some of the people who attend the Festival over several days to have a chance to meet each other in a spirit of organised informality, and to pursue together some of the issues that are dealt with publicly in the services. Therefore Peter Wills will lead a modest retreat on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday at 4.00 p.m. in the Parish Hall. I hope this will allow the spiritual core of the Festival to grow. There may be directed meditations, and a chance to discuss and reflect on the themes for the week, and related texts. Anyone is welcome to come and take part.