Reflections from Asia

November 30, 2005

Having recently returned from a two-week visit to churches in Asia that was a time of discovery and a blessing, I am still in the process of sorting and sifting all that I experienced. There are reports of the trip elsewhere in this issue. Here I offer just a few reflections.

In preparation for the visit, I tried to master a greeting in Japanese, Korean and Chinese. When I arrived in China, however, I was told that the preferred greeting among Christians was simply the word “peace.” After learning this, I began my remarks, lectures and sermons in China and Taiwan with, “Peace.”

Indeed, the journey itself was all about peace and reconciliation. Across national boundaries and in the face of antipathies of competing political perspectives, the churches of the region are making common cause. I am impressed and encouraged by the witness of our Anglican brothers and sisters as they seek to heal wounds from the past and to exercise a ministry of reconciliation.

I, too, was called upon to acknowledge my own nation’s part in a history of destruction and death in which hundreds of thousands of innocent people were victims of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The singed remains of a child’s school uniform and the origami cranes made by a girl slowing dying of radiation poisoning reminded me that the euphemism “collateral damage” is not an abstraction but wears a human face very much like our own.

While in Korea, I visited the Demilitarized Zone and the border between North and South Korea, which is marked by a narrow concrete strip roughly a foot wide and five inches high. Sadly, the various psychological strategies employed by both sides as they observe one another across this division reminded me of a children’s game. In this case, it is a game being played in deadly earnest.

Our Anglican Communion partner church in South Korea is committed to the reunification of the two Koreas and the reconciliation between North and South. As one priest put it: “We are one people and one culture.”

This brings me back to the matter of peace and a passage from the Gospel of Luke that I read in a new way shortly after my return. It is the account of Jesus sending out 70 disciples and telling them, “Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’

And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person.” Peace, as understood by the authors of the Bible, was significantly more than some sort of truce or containment of hostility. Rather, peace involved a radical reordering of patterns of relationship. That which is sundered is healed and taken beyond the sphere of hostility or fear or assertions of power or rightness into the open space of God’s own generosity and compassion. To make our home in God’s peace, or, rather, to allow God’s peace to make a home in us, is not to enter into an alien land but to come home to the full truth of who we are and are called to be.

As I read Luke’s account of the sending forth of the 70 disciples, it occurred to me that the peace offered by those sent out by Jesus might have served as a catalyst to call forth from those addressed a peace that already was planted deep within them. I have been pondering the notion that, by virtue of our creation, the peace of God which passes all understanding, all definition, all efforts to define or contain it, is present within us.

When one extends peace to another, it can call forth an answering peace already present, through possibly unknown or unacknowledged, within the depths of the other. This peace waits ready to be called forth into consciousness and released into freedom. When the word of peace is spoken, it addresses the peace that is deep within us, albeit occluded by disregard and sinfulness. We are thus invited to come forth, as Lazarus did, from the tomb of our isolated selves.

This mutual embrace, as it were, becomes a moment of grace as bestower and receiver discover they are one through the agency of a peace that comes from beyond them. At such profound moments of mutual discovery and communion, the peace of God which passes all understanding – embodied in Jesus and released into the world through Christ’s death and resurrection – becomes present in our midst.

The peace of God is the ground of our hope and the source of a tenacious and gracious confidence as we look around us at the church and our world with all its divisions and strained relationships. It is only in the strength of this peace, which presents itself as a gift rather than something of our own making, that we are able to endure with patience and in hope and exercise the costly and all-demanding ministry of reconciliation.