There’s a beautiful scene in Bridge over the River Kwai where Japanese and British hug each other. It is a powerful picture of reconciliation, healing, forgiveness 70 years on from the Second World War.
Ripon has some very fine and ancient bridges which span the 3 rivers that meet here and allow people to pass over them, enabling movement and communication from one side to the other. We Christians are called to be bridge people, building up bridges of trust and mercy, understanding and community. It’s costly work as bridges hold a lot of tension to allow all this. There are hurts to forgive, peace and reconciliation needed daily in our relationships and encounters. Jesus on the cross has his arms open wide to bridge the gap between humanity and God and between people. He breaks down the barriers and holds us up in love. And he wants us to copy him.
One of the Latin words for priest is pontifex – a bridge builder, one who reconciles and it is costly, sacrificial and painful. All Christians are called to be the priestly people of God – pontifices
Giving the peace during the Eucharist again is a powerful symbol of bridge builders. We reach out and touch others with the love and forgiveness of Jesus and greet one another in his name. This ancient act joins the community in communion and common unity in him. It is a sign that we really want to be healers, reconcilers, bridge builders, to be open to others, to be in touch with them. It shows that we want to seek all that makes for peace and builds up our common life.
Thanks be to God, our world today has many bridge builders who hold the tension, absorb the pain and hurt without reflecting it back. Amidst all the negativity, they remain positive. They do something positive rather than add to and compound the negative. They bring life instead of death, hope instead of despair, light rather than darkness. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, ‘It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.’ Is that what we do?
On this Remembrance Sunday, we remember the 2 World Wars –they were the worst conflict in the history of the world with 66 million dead and 6 times that number injured in mind and body.
Despite conflicts since then and challenges in our present age, these years since 1945 have seen the breakdown of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall; people now have more of a say and democracy is growing sometimes despite huge opposition. There is growing cooperation and understanding between people who used to be enemies. Thank God, we have seen the end of the evil of apartheid, growth of the European Union, realising our common roots and deepening our openness and tolerance of those who are different from us – seeing diversity as something which enriches and enhances a community and world. Taize community and Corrymeela where Christians of all denominations live, work and pray together in respect and harmony; the Church of England now with its 5 guiding principles to enable us to remain one family despite divergent beliefs and practices on the subject of the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate. We have seen peace in Northern Ireland after 200 years of division and an intensive 20 years of killing with the loss of over 3000 lives.
70 years on we give thanks for the United Nations Charter. It aims to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war which brings such untold sorrow to humanity; to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights; in the dignity and worth of every human being; in the equal rights of all people and nations large and small; to practice tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours; to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security.
All of this has been brought about because of men and women of love, healing, good will to all who follow the way of Jesus in word and action.
They live out the Gospel ways of love, forgiveness, compassion, gentleness against all the odds; against all the misunderstanding, ridicule, persecution they stick at it and won’t give up no matter how difficult it is, how disappointing, how thankless.
Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run the race set before us with our eyes always fixed on Jesus on whom it all depends from start to finish – who himself endured the cross.
It is the way of Jesus – it is the way of his people.
Let’s pray for grace to be numbered among them – men and women and children of peace, healing and forgiveness and let it begin in this Cathedral today.