Blessed peacemakers

Hugh Bates explains that making peace involves the active breaking down of walls and barriers, and seeking to resolve arguments rather than to win them

In this same interlude it doth befall That I, one Snout by name, present a wall; And such a wall, as I would have you think, That had in it a crannied hole or chink, Through which the lovers Pyramus and Thisbe Did whisper often very secretly.

You will recognize the opening lines of the play within a play at the end of A Midsummer Night's Dream. A feature of Herod's temple was the barrier marking off the inner court of the Jews from the outer court of the Gentiles. Though it may not have had 'a crannied hole or chink', it was not very substantial. You could vault it quite easily - assuming you were fit enough!

Along its length were notices in Greek and Latin advising strangers that it was a capital offence for a non-Jew to cross the line. St Paul got into big trouble when he was suspected of having brought Greeks into the temple. For all we know, the suspicions may have been well founded. This feature is what the letter to the Ephesians calls the 'middle wall of partition, which Christ has overcome in and by the Cross. On the Cross, the two hostile parties are reconciled in a single body to God. Peace has replaced the previous hatred and hostility.

The temple restored

The (possibly apocryphal) story is sometimes told to illustrate this, of the signalman in the trenches in the First World War, who was sent out into no man's land to repair a broken line. A little while later, those at base realized that communications had been restored, but the signalman did not return. A search party found his body face down in the mud, his arms outstretched and each end of the broken cable grasped in either lifeless hand.

The current had been restored by and through his cruciform body. 'Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.' As St John reminds us, he was speaking of the temple that was

his body. Now that the temple has been properly relocated and restored, there is no longer any room for walls of partition.

Throughout history people seem to have been obsessed with building walls: the Great Wall of China, Hadrian's Wall to keep out the Scots, the Berlin Wall. Right up to date is the ugly construction dividing Israeli from Palestinian territory. Will they never learn?

The root of hostility

'Blessed are the peacemakers.' The erection and maintenance of walls and barriers are entirely out of place in the temple which is Christ's body. Walls and barriers are the root of enmity and hostility. As long as they are there, they are obstacles to reconciliation. 'Ye that do truly and earnestly repent'- yes! - 'and are in love and charity with your neighbours.' This is the main requirement. The Byzantine Rite, and also most modern Western Rites, place the Kiss of Peace immediately before the Preparation of the Gifts.

The Book of Common Prayer has its own very practical equivalent. In the rubrics the curate is ordered to warn off 'those between whom he perceives malice and hatred to reign' - a regulation usually more honoured in the breach than the observance. Or, 'if you bring your gift to the altar and then remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift. Go and be reconciled first.' It is not a matter of winning arguments but resolving them, even at the price of misunderstanding - persecution even.

Peacemakers do not erect barriers. They will not emulate Snout in seeking to present a wall, even one with holes in it. More positively challenging, they will take the opportunity to undermine existing walls. What if St Paul really had introduced Trophimus the Ephesian into the temple? It was asking for trouble. But, as he himself said, it was by and on the Cross that the enmity has been overcome. Peacemakers are saluted as the children of God because the first-born Son has set the family pattern for them. |

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