There is only a short space of time at Mass, minutes, between the first reading, which soothes us with its promise of peace, to the reading of John’s Gospel, in which sides are being chosen and death looms. This "short space of time" seems to be, in and of itself, a metaphor for how quickly in life we can go from unity to divisiveness. We travel from peace to war sometimes at a dizzying speed.
Perhaps like me, you, too, feel weary as you read the news about the outbreak of war or violence in yet another country. The tone of our national politics remains polarizing; local crime is heartbreaking. Personally? I lost my temper with a neighbor this week and am still simmering.
But here is this beautiful promise from God in today’s first reading – that Israel will be restored, her people united, and new life will be breathed into dry bones – a promise that God will set up a sanctuary among us and make us holy. When I hear the passages from Ezekiel, of God’s promise of a covenant of peace, I feel such a sense of longing.
We can all lay down our arms and rest in the presence of God.
Then comes the Gospel, however, and we are plunged into a sense of growing fear. There is trepidation on the part of the people about their personal and national fate in following Jesus. His death is prophesied and Jesus removes himself from the public eye. We know the Cross awaits him. It’s as if God’s covenant has vanished already! Where once we felt hopeful and safe, now we are looking over our shoulders.
This, I suppose, is one of the terrible balancing acts of being human. We yearn for peace, crave it, but we mess up, get angry, feel fearful, lose our center, and lose our God. Nations go to war, political parties get fired up, individuals snipe at one another and neighbors bark at neighbors. God’s promise of peace still exists – He has not walked away from His covenant with us – it is we who have lost faith in the relationship and wandered away into states of despair or anger.
As we prepare to enter Holy Week, we will probably not see peace on earth. But, God willing, we can see peace restored within ourselves and our community, and from small ripples a greater wave might be born. Peace is a process, I believe, not a static event, and it is Christ’s very Passion and Resurrection that confirms we are not foolish to believe it is possible and to work towards it, inside our hearts and out in the world.
Nancy Nickel is director of communications at the Passionist Development Office in Chicago.