War or peace?
We have been having some debates here on war versus pacifism. Soon on TV screens we will see the moving story of conscientious objectors in the First World War including Archibald Baxter, father of our most famous poet, James K Baxter. Called Field Punishment No 1, it screens this Tuesday at 8.30 pm on TV One.
In this year of the centenary of the beginning of the First World War, with Ukraine being torn apart by Russian manipulation of nationalist sentiment (or is Russia rescuing Russians under threat of Ukrainian nationalism?) we continue to make the War to End All Wars among the biggest of all lies humanity has told itself.
Locally here in Anglican NZ, in the heart of our own residential theological college, the spirit of military service is alive and well, as you can read here.
For Anglicans in NZ, where, as the article reminds us, we have very strong links to the military, especially via chaplaincies, questions about Christian duty to Queen and country have the potential to divide us.
We could debate whether if this were 1914 we would go to war in foreign fields for the sake of control of Europe. An interesting and safe academic debate.
What if we asked ourselves whether Russians under Ukrainian yokes or Ukrainian interests affected by Russian expansionism is worth fighting for? Or the plight of Syrian rebels?
Wrath or example?
We have also had some debates over the years about God's wrath. It struck me reading Exodus 12 this morning that if the roots of the action of God in Christ on the cross go back to the first Passover (and beyond, to the Fall, in case anyone thinks I have a short-term view of history) then God's wrathful judgment is intrinsic to understanding the cross.
The first Passover is the story of God's wrath being visited on Egypt. The unjust treatment of Israel as Egypt's slave incurred God's just response: let my people go. When polite request for justice failed, God's wrath was invoked. Even a series of severe plagues was insufficient to make Pharaoh repent. Finally, God's judgment would come though the angel of death. For Israel the way through this ultimate plague was to kill a lamb, smear doorpost and lintel with blood, thus signifying that that angel of death was to pass over that house and family. Israel escaped the wrath through the Passover being celebrated for the first time.
At his Last Supper, our Lord celebrated Passover with a transformative action which changed that meal forever for his followers. Breaking bread and blessing wine, equating them with his body to be broken and his blood to be poured out, Jesus became the new Passover Lamb (1 Corinthians 5:7, John 1:29, 36). Through his blood his followers would be saved from the wrathful judgment of God: 'Whoever eats of this bread will live forever' (John 6:58). The implication of rejecting Jesus the bread of God (as some did immediately after Jesus finished his teaching in John 6) is judgment: 'The one who rejects me and does not receive my word has a judge; on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge' (John 12:48).
There are other understandings to bring to the cross, including demonstration of God's love for us in Christ Jesus and offering an example of patient endurance through suffering (Romans 5:8; 1 Peter 2:21). But for those uncomfortable with the wrath of God being part and parcel of the event of the cross, some reckoning needs to be made with the interpretation of our Lord himself, that on the cross a new Passover took place.
The good news, of course, is that once again, blood serves to save people from the judgment of God, from God's justice being enacted on those of us who have acted unjustly. Through the blood of the Lamb we receive mercy undeserved.