Rev Dr Steve Bevis is Minister at Burwood Croydon Uniting Church and Chair of the UnitingWorld Board.
Blog Originally published on the Burwood Croydon Uniting Church website here.
Burwood Park is classic European Australian park at the edge of a now-bustling urban centre. People stream out of shops and businesses to sit on the grass, enjoy the shade of sprawling tree-lined paths, and, of course, dine at a cafe – what experience of being in a park feels complete these days without handy access to coffee or chai?!
The entrance to the park, though, has intrigued me since our arrival. A large sandstone arch welcomes all visitors. Across the top, and on both sides it proclaims: Thanks Be Unto God Who Gave Us The Victory. I wonder what people make of it? Yes, it is a monument to lives lost in 1914-1918. It was and is fitting to honour those for whom total sacrifice came upon their lives, and at too young an age. Yes, it is thanks for peace, but, as we know, it was a false peace: for this ‘us’ to whom victory was ‘given’ produced not peace, but a climate of fear, instability, exclusion, marginalisation and further mistrust. You know where the story goes. So what does it speak today?
And not just generally, in a secular age. What does it say to ‘us’ when Australia and China are at loggerheads? When 30 Billion plus dollars are spent on nuclear submarines to ‘secure peace’? When Burwood is full of families of Chinese origin? Where a vibrant Chinatown exists? It makes me wonder.
And I also wonder about our Pacific neighbours, caught up in this posturing and positioning, and who are promised that they will be given peace and prosperity by these outside powers. And all the while the seas rise. Every cent spent on nuclear powered military is one less spent on those in poverty, on addressing the root causes of climate change. And what does all this bring in the meantime? Does it build a climate of peace, or a climate of fear?
But there is another aspect to this scene, that perhaps speaks another story if we could read it. For on either side of this monument are palm trees, silently bearing witness to something else: to peace, to life itself, not the pain of death and destruction.
It’s a reminder to me of the way Palm Sunday has become associated with peace and justice. In memory of Jesus who entered the capital and was greeted with palm branches and crowds sensing something special – a person who brought people together, who spoke up for the poor, who healed and transformed, who spoke out against injustice – today, people march for refugees on temporary protection visas, for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, for peace itself.
Jesus did not enter as a conqueror returning from battle. He was not the God who ‘gives us the victory’ through military battle and strategy. No, he was the opposite. His God-given victory was of a different type. And, I think, in some way he gives us another image of what it is to be human. To initiate change through humility, through bearing witness to truth and the shared dreams of all.
To me it is a reminder that I need to participate in actions that create not a climate of fear, but a climate of peace.
We humans can change the climate, the earth’s atmosphere, and our collective emotional and psychological climate.
Today those beautiful palms bear witness to me of the path of peace. Palms are a now-universal symbol of peace; of paradise, of oasis, of rest, calm and restoration. Every time I see those Palm trees in the park I will hear them speaking a deeper truth than or idea that which is proclaimed by the arch.
Let those suburban palms, like those trees scattered across our suburbs, be a reminder of peace, of the needs of all people, including our South Pacific neighbours who are facing a climate of fear because of the actual changes in the climate, and of which they are already bearing the brunt through cyclones and rising seas. And to that end, let those palms stand as a reminder not only of the real needs of neighbours, but of life itself. Picture, if you can, beautiful palms, standing not in a Sydney park, but palms on a Pacific atoll, as the salt waters rise and wash them away. This Sunday, this Palm Sunday, and Palm Sundays for many years to come, need to be a reminder that the beauty, peace and promise of life itself is at stake for so many. Even for some of those very palms. Let’s do our part to together create a climate of true peace, for all.