In January 1984 we were in Canberra and visited the National War Memorial - said to be the biggest tourist attraction in Canberra.
Scenes of war and of particular historical battles are graphically portrayed in painting and diorama. Relics of war and war machines are on display. Walls are filled with the names of 102,000 Australian war dead.
And in the Hall of Memory, beneath the dazzling mosaic of the dome, in silence or amid echo, surrounded by mosaics of the services and stained-glass windows, one may contemplate a huge 5.5 metre statue of a serviceman holding a camouflage net.
What is the strange fascination of this place?
Some come with their own memories of war - to relive their memories and remember their own dead.
Others look at the displays and wonder at the crudity and barbarity of the past - that’s history, what it was like, but it’s not our world - at least, not here.
Yet others look at it and revel in it with the background of Star Wars and Space Invaders, with little appreciation of the horror that is war.
Walter Burley Griffin, in his original concept for Canberra, apparently wanted some sort of memorial for peace on Capital Hill facing the War Memorial across the lake. We may not be at all sure this concept is fulfilled by the new Parliament House!
War... and peace... Being horrified at war doesn’t guarantee peace. The intense desire to be "left alone" doesn’t guarantee peace.
Once again, our world faces a very deep-seated longing for peace, and yet the frightening possibility of war.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he was sad - "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace..." (Luke 19.42).
Surely that is our problem too. Until we come back to accept God’s peace and to live it out in all our relationships, the threat of war will continue in our world.
The Memorial should be a reminder that it can happen again - and with more awful technology than ever before!
It’s no use speaking of peace where it doesn’t exist. Switching off the news won’t keep us in peace - though quite frankly I seriously question whether we need to be bombarded all the time with the images of terror and destruction.
Arm-chair peace-makers around the world know exactly how to solve the problems. But they don’t agree with one another - and the issues are far more complex than any of them admit!
For example... The reality is that, when the state of Israel was declared in 1948, many, many Palestinians were displaced from what had been their homeland for many hundreds of years. The reality is also that the Temple Mount (site of the Temple in Jerusalem) is the third most holy Muslim site in the world. The other reality is the persecution of Jews in many countries and over many centuries - a persecution which reached its climax in the Holocaust in which some 6 million Jews died, including 1.5 million children. The Jews wanted the safety of a Jewish state, and where else than in their old "promised land"?
Far more than we realise, that whole complex unresolved issue is at the heart of the attacks of September 11 2001.
I keep thinking back to those words of Jesus, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace..."
That was the day we call Palm Sunday. In less than a week they would have him dead on a cross, then sealed away in a tomb. Yet in the midst of those events, we hear him saying, "Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23.34). And after his resurrection, we hear him telling his disciples that "repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in him name to all nations, beginning in Jerusalem" (24.47).
The "peace" that Jesus was talking about was closely bound to their response to him and their relationship with God. They should have understood that, but didn’t. And we have had ample opportunities to understand it too!
In my report on the trip to Israel in February 2001, I said, "The only possible solution seems to lie in a radical change of heart on all sides - quite specifically that Jew and Muslim both come to trust in the one who is the Prince of Peace. That ‘peace process’ was costly - and there will also be costs to both Jew and Muslim in such a change of heart."
As we pray for peace in the world, may we pray with an understanding of "what would bring us peace." That "peace of God" needs to be visible in our lives and needs to be accompanied with an earnest desire and prayer that people here and around the world will respond to Jesus, the Prince of Peace.
God bless us all!
© Peter J. Blackburn, Link, October 2002