Goodness will overcome
In 1979, the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, Airey Neave, was killed by a car bomb planted by the INLA as he drove out of parliament. In 1991, the IRA launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street in an attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister John Major. Westminster in common with London is no stranger to terrorist attacks, stretching back to the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. All terrorist attacks are terrible in different ways. Wednesday’s attack was shocking because it was an attack on our democracy, in which a policeman guarding our parliament was killed; and because of the unexpected way in which the killer struck on Westminster Bridge. While previous attacks have involved firearms and bombs, and we are well-used to looking out for suspicious packages, now the terrorist’s weapon of choice is a vehicle. There are over two and a half million cars registered in London, each one of them is potentially a lethal weapon.
It’s a frightening thought. Every time we leave the house and go somewhere we do so trusting that no one will want to do us harm. That is the unwritten contract that we have with the rest of society. Wednesday’s attacker did not feel any obligation to keep that contract.
Each one of us is capable of great good and great evil. We chose light or darkness, in St Paul’s terms (Ephesians 5.8-14). We see the way of darkness in the terrorist, and the way of light in the subsequent attempts to save life and treat the injured and distressed.
When such an event occurs, explanations are sought and blame apportioned. We want to know why he did it, how it was allowed to happen. Though he may been influenced by others, one man alone was responsible for the attacks; one man chose to kill, and break God’s commandment.
Today in the gospel of John, (9.1-41) we see the finger of blame being pointed, in the cruel way that blame is often apportioned, in the extraordinary episode of the man born blind. In the rleigious thin king of Jesus' day, there has to be someone at fault to blame for misfortune. Either the man himself or his parents had sinned, bringing upon him the punishment of blindness. The Book of Exodus refers to God punishing sin to the second and third generation. However Jesus overturns this old way of thinking. The God whom Jesus reveals is not a God of punishment. Jesus himself did not punish, but was himself punished on the cross. Many people still believe that they are punished by God for their sins. Our actions can have consequences, some of which endure for a long time, as we bring punishment on ourselves; but if we say that God punishes, what does that say about the God we worship?
There were many people on Westminster Bridge on Wednesday most escaped unharmed, many were injured, some were killed. Their fate was pure chance, they were all the victims of one man’s calculated decision to arbitrarily commit murder; one man with a violent past who succumbed to the ways of darkness expounded by the pedlars of hate.
Jesus is the light of the world, who would expose those secret black thoughts that, when left concealed and unconfessed breed destruction. The light of Christ illuminates what is good and what is true.
Martin McGuiness who died this week, had been part of an organization that pursued terrorist acts during the Troubles and carried out many atrocities in London. However he turned away from violence to pursue the way of peace. In spite of his past, he was able to work and pray with his enemies. How far Northern Ireland has come can be measured by the applause for the Democratic Unionist party leader Arlene Foster, as she entered St Columb’s Catholic Church, to attend his funeral.
The pedlars of hate want do not want us to live peaceably with one another but to be at each other’s throats. But that is not the Christian way, it is not the British way, it is not our way.
The light of Christ shows us that each of us is made in the image of God; and though we sin and tarnish that image, the likeness remains. We, in our own small way, are daily faced with a choice between evil and good, darkness and light, death and life. Darkness can never overcome the light, as St John reminds us in the prologue to his gospel.
The power of evil is short-lived and fleeting.
Goodness, the true way of God, will overcome and will endure.