Despair, Hope, and Peace

 

Dear People of Alnwick,

This letter will come to you just as Holy Week and Easter approaches.

In the few short days between Palm Sunday and Easter Day, we experience just about every possible human emotion. From the ‘Hosannas’ of Palm Sunday, through the poignancy of commemorating the Last Supper and the footwashing on Maundy Thursday and the heart-wrenching desolation of the events of Good Friday, right through the rejoicing of Easter itself with the victory of Christ’s rising again and the assurance of new life which that brings. A ‘rollercoaster’ ride if ever there was one!

Each year, as Holy Week comes along, we try to put ourselves in the place of those early disciples who experienced all these events as they happened. But, try as we might, we cannot be truly authentic in our experiences since we travel though those days in the knowledge that Easter Day, and all the attendant rejoicing, will come at the end of the week.

How much it have been for those men and women who had no idea of the final victory, but only the sorrow of watching their leader, their inspiration and their anchor in life maltreated, persecuted and humiliated before being cruelly put to death?

It is, of course, a question which none of us can answer. We know, from the Gospels, that Jesus tried to get the message across to his followers that there was hope and victory beyond what they would experience but, like so many of us today, they simply didn’t hear. Truly, they were without hope.

I am writing this just a few days after the terrible events in Westminster which led to death and to a very serious injury for innocent people going about their work and their daily lives. The actions of (seemingly) one man have had a devastating effect not only on those who have lost loved ones and the families of the injured, but on countless others who are horrified and sickened by such an atrocity.

Jesus’ post-resurrection message was one of peace. “Peace I give to you, my peace I leave with you.” Isn’t this really what, deep down, all of us want?

Perhaps the answer, for some, is “Yes – but on my terms.”

That simply won’t do. Human life is sacred and priceless.

Some of you may have read Archbishop Justin Welby’s words in the House of Lords. I’d like to share them with you.

“I want, in terms of values, to refer to something that seems to me to go deeper, to something that is really at the foundation of our own understanding of what our society is about, and to do that in three very simple, very brief pictures.

“The first is of a vehicle being driven across Westminster Bridge by someone who had a perverted, nihilistic, despairing view of objectives of what life is about, of what society is about, that could only be fulfilled by death and destruction.

“The second is of that same person a few minutes later, on a stretcher or on the ground, being treated by the very people he had sought to kill.

“The third is of these two Houses, where profound disagreement, bitter disagreement, angry disagreement is dealt with not with violence, not with despair, not with cruelty, but with discussion, with reason and with calmness.

“My Lords, it seems to me that those three pictures point us to deep values within our own society – deeper even than ones that have been mentioned, quite rightly, in the Prime Minister’s statement and in other statements – which is the sense that comes from (and you would expect this from these benches) a narrative that is within our society for almost 2000 years.

“That speaks of – at this time of year as we look forward to Holy Week and Easter – of a God who stands with the suffering, and brings justice, and whose resurrection has given to believer and unbeliever the sense that what we do is right; where we behave properly; where that generosity and extraordinary sense of duty that leads people to treat a terrorist is shown; where that bravery of someone like PC Keith Palmer is demonstrated, that there is a victory for what is right and good; over what is evil, despairing and bad.

“That was shown yesterday. That is shown not just in our expression of values, but in our practices which define those values. And that is the mood that we must show in the future.”

May these powerful words help us, in our dismay, to work and pray for the true peace which Jesus, even in his trials, but especially in his victory, sought to bring.

With every blessing,

Paul.

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