It’s got to stop – now! The terrible war between Israel and Hamas, following the attacks of October 7th, has left the world reeling, and the people of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank traumatized and terrified. Looking from Coventry, we feel a close connection with the land of the Holy One, both through our partners in Palestine and Israel, and the daily reminder of the font in our extraordinary building. Made from a huge limestone boulder brought here in 1960 from the hills above Bethlehem, it is a tangible symbol of the significance of place to our faith, and calls us to pray with ever increasing urgency for peace and reconciliation.
In this season of Advent, Christians across the world look forward to celebrating Christmas as the birth of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. It’s a time of promise of hope, of salvation. But it’s also a time of promise of God’s judgement of all that is wrong in the world and in the lives of God’s people. It’s clear that something has to change in the land of Jesus’ birth, a land which is not just sacred, but also home to millions of people, who need, like all of us to be able to live their lives in safety.
How do the people of Israel Palestine, and especially Gaza, find a way forward from the terrible events of October 7th, and forward from the years of fear that preceded them? Every situation is different, and every situation is unutterably complex, so we might hesitate to say anything. But to be silent is to fail to challenge what is happening - so we know we must say something, because people are dying. We learned in Coventry in November 1940 that in the midst of war we need always to be looking to ways to build peace, and that it has to be a shared peace where all can find a way to live and flourish. Our leader at the time, the prophetic Provost Howard, spoke courageously in a time of war of the need to rebuild not just in wood and stone, but also in relationships. Here in Coventry, we learned that the way to a secure future is not the way of revenge, or of building walls, to defeat or banish our enemies – but to find a way towards reconciliation. Our friendships today with our former enemies, those who attacked and destroyed our City and its Cathedral, speak of a willingness on both sides to forge new relationships out of the chaos and horror of war.
In Coventry we describe the work of reconciliation as a journey from a fractured past towards a shared future. To engage in that journey requires us to give attention to the past, the present and the future. The past, in healing the wounds of history – to surface them, acknowledge them, consider their present impact. The present, in learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity – believing that we can be enriched by our diversity within one human family. And the future, in building a culture of justice and peace – where all can flourish in safety.
In this place of present suffering, we know that it will take time, imagination and courage to build trust between two peoples whose attachment to the land is an integral part of their identity and their history. Two peoples who are inheritors, even prisoners of a history they did not choose, and for which the international community bears at least some of the responsibility. All are bearing the burden, the wounds of that history. It’s not possible to turn back the pages of history – but to look forward must begin by acknowledging its truth. The journey to peace with justice always looks to the future, but has also to acknowledge the past, to find some way towards a shared narrative. Only by doing this can the road towards a just peace be found.
To engage in this journey of reconciliation requires an act of moral imagination, beyond simply a ceasefire – for which we also unequivocally call. It requires political and social leadership which is committed to a shared future, whatever that may look like, which can hold their communities on track through the inevitable setbacks and which will inhibit acts of retaliation and revenge against those actions that are designed to perpetuate and re-escalate the conflict. We trust that those of faith may have the shared wisdom and spiritual resources to play their part in such leadership, and we promise them our prayers and whatever support they may seek from us.
Loving and Holy God,
we plead for all your all people in the land of Jesus’ birth.
Prisoners of their history, we pray that they be set free
To find new ways to live in justice and peace.
Heal the wounds of their history,
Help them to learn to live with their differences and celebrate their diversity.
Bring an end to this suffering,
And guide and empower them to build a culture of justice and peace.
We ask this in the name of your blessed Son, the Prince of Peace.