"Peace is a City," from Interfaith Celebration of Peace, September 8, 2016

On the evening of September 8, I was invited to offer a Christian perspective on the meaning of peace, along with representatives from Buddhist, Jewish, Wiccan, and Indigenous communities. To get at how the Christian tradition views peace, I reflected on images from Revelation 21-22, which comes at the very end of the Bible.

Thank you so much for the invitation to be here. I'm deeply honoured by it. My name's Reverend Ryan Slifka, and I'm the pastor at St. George's United Church. I've invited to reflect on the meaning of peace in the Christian tradition, so I'll give you a perspective. I don't speak for all Christians, but I can speak about what is woven in to our story.

To tell you about peace, I’d like to use an image. One from the book of Revelation. The very end book of the Bible, the Christian sacred scriptures. Sort of the conclusion of not only the Bible, but the human story, and the story of our universe. At the end of time is peace. A peace deeper than the world has ever known. Peace is our destiny.

This image of peace is a city. In this vision, the writer sees heaven and earth pass away. Not the destruction of heaven and earth. But the world as we know it, with its cruelty, its suffering, and its violence, that world ceases to exist. And the world as we know it is renewed. The writer looks up into this sky, and sees this this holy city, Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God. As a bride, it says, preparing for her wedding day. It’s the marriage of heaven and earth. Every tear will be wiped away.

The city is a city like no city we’ve ever known. Its gates will never be closed. And the nations, leaders from all the earth will stream inside of this city. There will be no night because the presence of God will be so bright and radiant that day will never end. And there’s river, the river of life that flows from the throne of God perched in the middle of the city. On its banks is a tree, called the “tree of life” covered with every fruit. There is no longer conflict between cultivated civilization and the wilderness of nature. The two coexist in harmony. In this garden city, Lions and lambs lie down together, poisonous and snakes and children make friends. Peace is not only the reconciliation of human beings. It’s the reconciliation of all things.

And the leaves on the tree in the center, it says they are medicinal. They are for “the healing of the nations.” All the earth that is wounded, the nations that wage war against one another, and the war that wages in the human heart, is cured. The illnesses of war and violence are confronted at the source. Mended, from the inside out.

As Christians, we believe that this image describes the purpose of all things. It is what we were made for by the Love at the heart of the universe, the same that flung the stars into their orbits. And it’s that very same Love continues to draw us towards itself. Peace is not just an idea, a behavior, or a beautiful dream. Peace is our universal destiny. It’s the future we all belong to.

But it’s not only the future. Christians believe that the Love at the heart of the universe has revealed itself to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For us, this peaceable future has been unveiled now. And we can experience and practice this fullness of life now. Jesus is the cornerstone laid for this new city. And we who accept Jesus’ invitation to life in and with him, are empowered as living examples of that peaceable kingdom in the present. We are energized by the Spirit of the Creator to be beacons of light and hope to our violent world. By unconditionally loving of neighbors near and abroad. By purging our hearts and lives from impulses towards domination and vengeance by practicing humility and forgiveness. And by taking up Jesus’ cross by being willing to suffer for the sake of those who are the victims of violence and injustice. For Christians, in following Jesus and his Way God uses us as living stones, laid on Christ the cornerstone, to build this heavenly city here and now. In the ruins of the old one. And scatters us as seeds, who will root in, grow up, and eventually bear fruit for the tree of life.

Friends, in the Christian tradition, peace is a city. A flourishing garden city, the reconciliation of human beings, the Creator, and the Creation. One built upon those who take up peace as their vocation, following in the footsteps of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Peace is the intent, the purpose, and the fulfillment of all life. Peace is your destiny, my destiny. Our destiny. Behold, says the Lord, I make all things new. And it begins here, and now.

“Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus said, “for they will be called children of God.” Amen.