Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Easter

O Almighty God, who alone makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will: grant unto thy people, that they may love the thing which thou commandest, and desire that which thou dost promise; that so, among the manifold changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed, where true joys are to be found; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Power of the Crucified

I am pausing my series on gender theory again. Recent events -- the Boston bombings, and others -- have provoked certain reflections which I'd like to explore. I apologize if this post is a little more haphazard than usual; it was written in the grip of passion.

I feel I have grown up in an increasingly violent world. I was born during the tail end of the Cold War; when I reached adolescence, acts of violence, seemingly suddenly, became a prominent feature on the news -- not just ordinary crimes, but frightening innovations: I was eleven when the Kosovo War hit the news, and when Matthew Shephard was brutally beaten and left to die; twelve when the Columbine Massacre happened, fourteen years ago this Saturday; fourteen when the World Trade Center was destroyed and the Pentagon attacked. And between political hawks who want to fight fire with fire, and doves who don't want to fight at all, America has become more polarized, more ideologically and rhetorically violent -- while at the same time, disenchantment with both of our major political parties has increased dramatically. (I neither have nor care about a solution to the problems of political parties. Theoretically, in a democracy, the parties serve the interests of the people; an amusing thesis, but never mind. If they are losing their bases, that is their own fault -- we do not owe them our loyalty, they owe us their loyalty, and if they betray their lords then their lords need not take care of them. I shall not.)

But I digress. I have written about nonviolence before (here and here particularly), but I don't think I have communicated the passionate conviction of nonviolence that acts of violence engender in me. I loathe any and every shedding of human blood even when there is absolutely no alternative. The horrifying insanities that have marred Massachusetts and Connecticut this year defy adequate response.

People are nonetheless calling for responses. Conservatives, for an increased liberty in the use of guns, so as to cast out the spirit of violence by fear of retaliation, while the left calls urgently for an increase in restrictive laws, perhaps not realizing that every appeal to law is indirectly an appeal to law enforcement, which is again, as the word suggests, an appeal in the last resort to force. Nor is there a lack of cries for revenge, indeed threats of revenge addressed to the unknown perpetrators.

Revenge, hatred, and violence solve nothing. Nothing. Why not? Because they beget themselves again! They rise, like a perverse phoenix, out of their own ashes! Every war is pregnant with the war that will be fought in retaliation, every act of malice repeats itself by laws of cause and effect! Violence breeds violence, it does not produce peace! At the very most, violence can suppress a disorder temporarily and buy the victor time; at its worst, its corrosive effects rot the souls of perpetrators and victims alike -- as Timothy McVeigh, a decorated veteran of the Gulf War, was twisted and sickened both by things he did and by things that were done to him. I am not defending any of his actions: they were monstrous. They are, also, a case in point of violence breeding violence.

And what is the solution to violence? Merely let ourselves be struck and struck down, our lives be mangled? I'll say it: Maybe.

Verily, verily, I say unto you, except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. ... Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour: but for this cause came I unto this hour. ... Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. -- John 12.24-25, 27, 31-32

Violence is weak. It is the weapon of weak men, not strong ones. Oh, admittedly a man may be so cowardly that he is too weak even for violence; I don't yet know whether I am of that type, though I suspect it -- my drift into pacifism felt awfully convenient. But whether I personally am a knight in shining nonviolent armor or not, I am deeply convinced that there is no weapon stronger than Divine Love. Love subjected Himself to a violent death and returned from it. The Roman Empire, which executed Him at the apex of its kingdom, power, and glory, waned and fell into darkness while His Church had not yet finished gathering her strength. And that strength was not gathered by force; even when the state chose to assist the Church by force, it backed heretical movements like Arianism and Iconoclasm as often as not, and the imperial purple fell at the feet of the Crucified, over and over again. It was that Crucified who gained the allegiance of all Europe for a thousand years, and who now, with the eternal suspicion of the Church from the World reviving, is present among us in every tabernacle and in every baptized soul. He who chose to let Himself die remains alive and victorious -- I am he that liveth, and was dead; and behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and I have the keys of hell and of death.*

Christian reader, the weapons of our warfare were not smithied for battles against flesh and blood. We do not owe our final allegiance to our nation but to our God. Every human being, of whatever nationality, race, religion, or ideology, is the dearly beloved of that God. Violence is weak because it does not solve the essential problem -- the problem of a world where men's hearts are cold enough that they are willing to wrong one another. The solution to that problem does not lie in taking sides, but in taking suffering -- St. Paul said it so well: Be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which is preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church.** If we desire peace, as God desires peace, the cost of that reconciliation is paid in suffering. That is what our Master did; and if we truly believe in the priesthood of all believers, then we ought each to be making ourselves sacrifices with Him.

Or were we thinking that it could be had without a price? Were we supposing that St. Peter really didn't mean it when he said that Christ was not our substitute only, but our example? Were we listening at all when Jesus warned us to count the cost, to pick up our own crosses and follow, to forsake our families and our property and our own lives also?

Violence is weak because it takes more strength to accept and endure suffering than it does to inflict it on other people -- whether out of cruelty or out of revenge for past injuries. Gandhi, who developed his ideas of nonviolence in the racial hatreds of South Africa and brought them into the Indian independence movement, saw clearly and said repeatedly that only love for one's enemies, the kind of love that converts them, can truly cause violence to dissipate. Kill an enemy, and the feud will continue, in this generation or the next; turn an enemy into a friend, and the feud is over already. People talk about fighting fire with fire, while ignoring how stupid that is in real life: you fight fire with water, because they are opposites. Fight fire with fire and you are simply doubling the problem. Love is the weapon of the strong, the weapon of those who are not afraid of suffering, the weapon of the Crucified. I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of hell and of death.

*Revelation 1.18.
**Colossians 1.23-24.

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