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'What makes for peace?' 21st Feb 2009 | Download | Email to a Friend

‘What makes for peace?’
A sermon preached by the Rt Revd Dr Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry, in the Frauenkirche, Dresden, on the occasion of the 64th Anniversary of its destruction following allied bombing of the city, and to mark the 50th anniversary of the twinning of the cities of Coventry and Dresden.


Isaiah 61.1-4 / Luke 19.41-48


My welcome to Dresden began in the air.
A charming man who lives near Dresden and who spoke perfect English sat next to me on the flight from Frankfurt.
He was delighted to discover that I came from Coventry.
He told me that a few years ago he had met the Bishop of Coventry and that he found him a very interesting and impressive person with many skills.
I replied to my new friend that he was now meeting the new Bishop of Coventry, but that I had to disappoint him – the new bishop was much less interesting and impressive than his predecessor, and has far fewer skills!
Today, my brothers and sisters, is proof of that – because my predecessor preached from this pulpit in fluent German.
But today, I am afraid, today you have me – a more typical, and rather stupid Englishman!

But I come among you, like my predecessor, with great love in my heart for you my brothers and sisters in Christ.
I come with great joy to be able to preach to you in this 8th wonder of the world – this is a magnificent church that is a sign of hope to the world.
But I come with heaviness on my heart – because on this day 64 years ago the old Frauenkirche was destroyed by fire after the bombing of Dresden.

My friends, it is a very great honour to be with you in this place at this time of year with its deep and painful memories; and I am very grateful to Pastor Herr Sebastian Feydt and Pastor Herr Holger Treutmann for their invitation to preach today.

Luke 19.41 – What makes for peace?

‘As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes”.’

What are the things that that make for peace – how do we recognize them?

Dresden and Coventry have a shared history:

In 1940 and 1945 our cities were destroyed by war.
Then British men and German men did not meet as friends in the sky above our cities.
They came to each other’s countries and cities as enemies dropping bombs.

But in the years that followed – first in Coventry, then in Dresden – as our reading from Isaiah says: ‘the ancient ruins were built up . . . and the ruined cities were repaired’.

From the conflict of the past to reconstruction for the future.
From war to peace.

How did this happen – how did Coventry and Dresden discover what makes for peace – and can this give hope to the world?

The title of a book written about one period in the long story of our shared history gives us a vital clue to what makes for peace.

The book is called Communing with the Enemy.
It describes the way Coventry became linked to Dresden during the Cold War when our two countries were locked into another war – the Cold War.
It was a courageous act by both cities – Coventry extending the hand of friendship and Dresden receiving the hand of friendship.
All of this in the year that I was born, 50 years ago in 1959.

The main part of the book tells how Coventry Cathedral sent 35 young people to Dresden to help rebuild the Deaconess hospital that had been destroyed in the bombing of Dresden.
It had taken 3 years to persuade the East German Government to allow them to come, but you, the people of Dresden, received these young people with much kindness and hospitality.

In the last week of his earthly ministry Jesus said, ‘If you [Jerusalem] had only recognized the things that make for peace’.
In the first weeks of his earthly ministry, Luke tells us that Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies, and do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you’. (Luke 6.27).

This is what makes for peace – and this is how Jesus established peace.

My brothers and sisters, I have been very moved to be with you over these few days.
 To lay a wreath at the cemetery in memory of the people of Dresden swallowed up in the firestorm of war.
 To stand with you in your grief in the square outside the Frauenkirche on Friday and at the old square during the unveiling of the memorial, with its story of a child who lost her mother, one of thousands of devastated families.
 To speak at the ecumenical service in the Catholic Cathedral, to hear the scripture in the Synagogue yesterday, to preach today in this magnificent house of prayer.
 To be here in the Frauenkirche last night to hear it filled with the beautiful sound of music of Verdi’s Messa Da Requiem and then with the haunting sound of silence.
And to go right to the top of the Frauenkirche and look over the whole of your beautiful city and imagine its devastation 64 years ago.

I know that you look to the future but in these days of recollection it would be understandable if the dark times of the past had caused you
to turn your face from someone who comes from the country that sent the planes that carried the bombs that - in the words of our reading – had ‘crushed you to the ground, you and your children with you’.

But you have welcomed, me embraced me and counted me as a friend.

This is what makes for peace: this is what the story of Dresden and Coventry have to tell the world.

– that forgiveness for the past brings new hope for the future
– that reconciliation brings freedom
– that love expressed in acts of solidarity brings people face to face with each other as human beings and children of God.

When that happens, real peace comes and real peace stays.

Bringing good news to those oppressed by their hatred

My brothers and sisters we know that not every one agrees with that strategy for peace.
We know – and we were reminded yesterday – that some believe that hatred and violence is a better way to build the future – and they can be found in both our lands and in most of the countries of the world.

We must stand against the way of hatred and violence, recrimination and revenge, blame and accusation – because we know that that way does not makes for peace but makes for an endless cycle of destruction and despair.

At the same time, we must apply the same method we have applied to ourselves. Our reading from Isaiah gives us a radical challenge:

 to find ways of bringing good news to those who are oppressed by their own hatred
 to find ways of bringing release to the prisoners who are held in the captivity of their hatred
 to find ways of loving for those whose hatred has made them enemies of love.

But who can this be done?

How can enemies be loved and good news be brought to those who are oppressed by their hatred in all the cities of the world -
the cities of Irak and Afganistan,
the cities of the Congo and Zimbabwe,
the cities of Israel and Palestine?

Only by the power of God demonstrated in the cross of Christ.

Luke tells us that on the occasion when Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies’, he also said, ‘Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful’.

God has been merciful to us.

St Paul tells us that ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. (Romans 5.8)

Each of us is a sinner.
This is the human problem of which we are all part.
– In our sin we set ourselves against God.
– We make ourselves enemies of God’s loving purposes for us.
– And God’s loving purposes stand against us.
– And so a great chasm opens up between God in his love and humanity in its sin.

But God reaches across that chasm.
God comes in the person of Jesus and in the shape of the cross stretches across the divide and says Vater vergib! (Father, forgive!).

This is the way of peace – when we accept God’s forgiveness and when we follow the way of God’s forgiveness.
This is the only way that works – Dresden and Coventry prove it.

 In the great cross of the original Frauenkirche this rebuilt Frauenkirche displays to all who come here the power of the cross that conflict cannot overcome.
 In the great cross given by the British people right on the top of the Church, this great Church displays to the world that reconciliation forged through the cross is a stronger force than the fire of bombs.
 In the cross of nails given by Coventry Cathedral on its altar-table, this great Church reminds all who come to the Lord’s Supper that the nails that pierced Christ’s hands and the nails that were the evidence of the destruction of Coventry Cathedral can become channels of healing and hope between peoples.
 And the cross on the floor of this great Church show that the only ground on which we can stand before God is the ground of the cross of God’s mercy.

Let us receive the forgiveness that God gives to us from the cross.
Let us walk the way of the cross, the way of reconciliation, and forgive those who sin against us.
Let us lift high the cross to the world and proclaim peace to the world.

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