“So they took up arms, these and a million other Canadians - men and women - who put on the uniform and beat their ploughshares into swords.” – Prime Minister Stephen Harper
“The regenerated do not go to war nor fight. They are children of peace who have beaten their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks and know of no war. They give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. Their sword is the sword of the spirit which they wield with good conscience through the Holy Ghost.” – Menno Simons, 16th century Anabaptist leader
At this time of year when our society turns its thoughts to war, we Mennonites, as a historic peace church, turn to thoughts of peace. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, which began in the summer of 1914. Over 600 000 Canadians were deployed and one of every ten was killed. It remains the bloodiest war in which Canada has ever participated, and though it was called the “war to end all wars,” the air strikes on ISIS or the “Islamic State” which Canada began this past week are terrible reminders that a century later, the slaughter and carnage – even at the hand of our nation – have not come to an end.
Many public commemorations of the hundred-year anniversary of the First World War remember the past in order to give us a script for how to live our lives going forward. This script tells us that war brings out the best in a nation, as the First World War helped Canada become consolidated or unified as a nation. We are told that war breeds heroes and brings glory, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s comments above suggest. The logic is that war may be nasty but sometimes it is necessary as the only way to keep tyranny and evil in check, the only way to keep us secure.
But God gives us a different script: the script of shalom. In Isaiah 2:2-4 (NRSV), we read,
“In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
Many peoples shall come and say,‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,to the house of the God of Jacob;
that [God] may teach us [God’s] waysand that we may walk in [God’s] paths.’
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
[God] shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.”
Here we see that as a result of God’s justice, the nations will turn costly weapons designed to kill into agricultural implements that increase food production and enhance human well-being. God’s dream in contemporary terms is to see the resources devoted to bombers, tanks, drones, aircraft carriers, and machine guns become life-enhancing farm implements, health-care facilities, schools, water treatment systems, environmental conservation measures, and trains and buses for public transit.
As we approach Remembrance Day, I invite you to turn your hearts and minds to the beautiful, ancient image of turning swords into plowshares and the profound hope of a world without war.
- Adapted from the Mennonite Central Committee 2014 Peace Sunday materials (http://mcccanada.ca/learn/what/peace/peace-sunday-2014)
- Stephen Harper’s quote is from his June 2014 speech on the 70th anniversary of the Second World War events of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy, France (http://pm.gc.ca/eng/news/2014/06/06/statement-prime-minister-canada-norm...)