In today’s Collect we turned to the “Almighty, ever-living God”. We turned to him because he “governs all things both in heaven and on earth. “Hear the pleading of your people”, we asked. And what is it God’s people are pleading for? “Bestow your peace on our times”. It bears repeating: “bestow your peace on our times”. This is the plea of our times. If we think of the world as a house, a house of many interlinked rooms, we can see that in this room or that there are fires – the fires of war. The fear, the danger, is that suddenly the whole house will be engulfed in one great conflagration.
And so we plead: “bestow your peace on our times”. Pour your dew on to hardened hearts. Extinguish the fires. This is Christian prayer. In the 3rd Eucharistic Prayer we ask for “the peace and salvation of all the world”. In the prayer after the Our Father: “Deliver us, Lord, we pray from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days”. “Grant us peace” we ry to the Lamb of God. In Christian language “peace” has many meanings, but it undoubtedly include the cessation of war, the end of mutual killings.
In the first reading we heard a famous story about the boy Samuel. According to Jewish tradition he was 12 at the time. He was living in the sanctuary at Shiloh, serving the priest Eli. And for the first time in his life he hears the voice of God. It’s the beginning of his mission. And the reading concluded: “Samuel grew up and the Lord was with him and let no word of his fall to the ground”. Because he had listened to the word, his word would have power.
It’s worth recalling Samuel. He stands tall in biblical history. He was the fruit of the prayers of his mother, Hannah, who was childless. The name “Samuel” means “asked for”. He was asked for by her, and he was given as an answer to the people of God. He was given at a moment when Israel was existentially threatened, as they say, by the Philistines. He appeared at a time of great change, when Israel was transitioning from a loose confederation of tribes to a united kingdom under one ruler. Samuel arose as a man of many roles: priest, judge, prophet, military leader. He proved both a man of God and a statesman. He would anoint Saul and, when Saul fell from grace, anoint David. And David would end the Philistine threat and be a king after God’s own heart. Samuel paved a way to peace.
“Bestow your peace on our times.” Our times, in turn, are times of change, of many wars, of Christians “existentially threatened” in many places. When Hannah prayed for a child and the people prayed for rescue, the Lord answered with a person. Today, we are not short of Philistines and Goliaths, of corrupt judges like the sons of Eli, nor of Saul-like leaders almost psychotic in their desire to destroy. May men and women of God, men and women of state, be given us. Hannah pleaded then, Mary pleads now, the Rosary is our connection to the prayer of Mary. Lord, “bestow peace on our times!” Send us Samuels!
Then in the Gospel we jump a thousand years. We are on the banks of the River Jordan. John is baptising. Jesus walks by, now 30, hardly known, just baptised by John, anointed by the Holy Spirit, about to begin his messianic mission as Prophet, Priest and King, healer, exorcist, teacher, gatherer. And then and there the first disciples meet him: John, son of Zebedee, Andrew, Simon who is named Peter. Others follow. It was the springtime of Jesus life, and it was probably literally springtime, nature reflecting grace. Passover was not far away. And there would have been flock after flock of sheep and lambs being ferried over the Jordan to be headed for Jerusalem, to be slaughtered for the Passover meal. And the Baptist, seeing Jesus in the swirl of sheep, sees the true Lamb, the Lamb sent by God to take away the sins of the world and make peace. The Lamb who will be slain – it’s the fate of a lamb – and yet raised from death. The true Passover Lamb, who will free us from the slavery of sin and lead us to the true peace of reconciliation with God and one another. The true Lamb brings the fulness of peace. The Liturgy brings this to the fore especially in the prayers before Holy Communion, when Christ opens up for us the peace of his Body.
“Bestow your peace on our times”. This is a peace greater than all the un-peace of our times, all the “trouble” in our hearts. “Peace I leave with you”, said the Lamb at his Passover, “my peace I give you. Not as the world gives, do I give to you” (Jn 14:27). Yes, there are many kinds of peace, and we should pray constantly, fervently, for all the great Hebrew word “shalom” includes, pray for it wherever the fires of war are blazing and God’s lambs – the little ones – are especially suffering. But we pray precisely because we know there is a greater peace still that only Christ bestows and that can sustain even amid war, even in martyrdom. If Christ did not bring more than ordinary peace, he would have brought nothing. But he does bring more: “a peace that passes all understanding”, St Paul calls it (Phil 4:7), and that “guards…hearts and…minds in Christ Jesus” (ibid).
As Christians, we have responsibilities. As Christians, we have the power of Spirit-filled prayer. We have access to the Father. “Bestow your peace on our times” we pray as another year begins. Peace of every kind. Amen.
St Mary’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, 14 January 2024