Jesus said to them, ‘Peace be with you.
‘As the Father sent me, so am I sending you.’ (John 20:21)
Religion is the cause of conflict in the world. People will often tell you this.
And we shouldn’t think that when we hear about the terrible things that happened in Manchester recently, and similar, even worse, atrocities in Egypt and Kabul since then, that this is just something to do with Islam. People who are not religious often see Religion itself, to be the principal source of dissension and conflict in the world, not just now, but also in history.
After all wasn’t Northern Ireland about Protestants and Catholics? And Bosnia was Orthodox Christians and Muslims? And were not some of the worst atrocities in history committed by (so-called) Christians against the Jews?
(I have to say “so-called” Christians about the Nazis - because it is so painful for me to think that what they did, is somehow associated with what I believe. But they thought they were Christians. And their mission was to rid the world of Jews.)
Of course, to say that all these terrible things are down to religion is much too simple. People use religion as their badge of identity in a conflict. It doesn’t make them a good catholic or protestant or jew or whatever if they use that banner in their fight. Al-Qaeda don’t represent Muslims any more than the Provisional IRA represented catholics or the Nazis represented Lutheran protestants.
And today there is something more that we can say. On that first Christian Pentecost people of all races, all backgrounds and all languages were gathered in the city. Huge crowds with different cultures and customs. It may have felt threatening and uncomfortable for the local people. It was a recipe for misunderstanding and conflict. An opportunity for crime and division.
Yet the Gift of the Holy Spirit did not divide, but unite. He did not make everyone the same, but he celebrated their differences. He did not make people pretend there were no variations between them, but he helped them praise God for the colour and variety and diversity of the crowd.
He did not set one against another, but he brought them together in truth.