Monday, May 31, 2004

You Can't Stop at Evil

From The Witness; excerpts from an article based on a sermon that was originally preached by the Rev. Chris Chivers at Westminster Abbey on May 9, 2004:

It is the evening of April 28, 1990. Two friends, Andrew and Michael, are sitting in their house in Harare, Zimbabwe, talking as they prepare to listen to the 8 o'clock news. They reflect on the events of another day as Michael, who is an Anglican priest, sorts through his postal mail. After a few minutes he breaks off the conversation, remembering that he must make a phone call before the news starts. So he fetches the cordless phone from his study and returns to the living room. Sitting down on the sofa, he dials the number and listens for the connecting tone, whilst unwrapping a parcel containing two books, one of which he opens.

Of the next few moments, all that Andrew remembers is a deafening blast, the sound and sight of falling ceilings, crashing debris, and billowing clouds of dust, whilst Michael's memories are of being thrown from the sofa, and of a piercing physical sensation, convulsing his whole body with pain, the like of which he has never experienced before or since.

Later, trawling the debris, the police piece together evidence of the enormous explosive devise triggered by Michael as he opened the pages of that book. But for now, Andrew is desperately trying to reach his friend. The cloud of dust means that he can barely see him. But, as it begins to clear, he finds him collapsed on the floor. Michael is still alive, so Andrew rushes through the house to unlock the security gates, and to fetch help.

Other friends have heard the blast and are already on the scene. Despite their fear of further explosions, several of them rush in to be with Michael and discover him lying amid the wrecked furniture and scattered papers, slumped against a wall. His face blackened and bleeding, he is in agonising pain. Horrified, his friends see that both his hands have been blown off in the blast. He is losing so much blood that they know they must get him to hospital immediately. Realising that it will take too long for an ambulance to arrive, they manoeuvre him carefully into the back of a car, and speed to the hospital which they reach within a few minutes. There, Michael is lifted onto a stretcher and within seconds is whisked into the building. Will he live, his friends wonder, as they follow the stretcher? Michael is, by now, desperate for pain killers, but despite his insistent demands the doctors cannot yet give them to him. They must keep him conscious until he is sedated for surgery. So his friends surround him in a valiant attempt to offer some support. They have to shout, because both his eardrums have been shattered in the explosion, but Michael clearly knows who they are, since he begins to cry out to one of them:

“Pray with me, Phyllis.”
“I don't know how,” she says.
“Pray the Lord's Prayer.”
She battles to remember “. . .and deliver us from evil. Amen.”
“Go on.”
“That's where it ends.”
“You can't stop there. You can't stop at ‘evil'.”
“For thine is the kingdom, the power and . . . the glory.”

You can't stop at evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory...

... We can't stop with evil, we can't get stuck with suffering, despair, fear, denial, and the like. The story doesn't end there. . . That is the message of Easter. And if Michael Lapsley discovered this truth in his own agonising night of trial and suffering we can and must do the same. For deep clouds of darkness are similarly engulfing us at this time...

... But God forbid that we stop, that we get stuck with abuse, with xenophobia, and the like. For, as the shameful events of these last few days and weeks have reminded us, the story mustn't be allowed to end there. That way lies the Judas road to self-destruction. Rather, what we must do is somehow to recover, to learn again, what it means to walk the Christ-like path to glory. Since though we cannot undo the past – even the horror of the immediate past – we can and must transcend it. Which is why the lines with which today's Gospel passage ends are so timely, tellingly simple, yet demanding. For if glory is, seemingly against all probability, to be discerned amidst the evil we experience, if victims are indeed to become not just survivors but victors, then as human beings we must actually relearn what it means to be human. And when we see representatives of so-called Western civilisation treating their fellow human beings in a degrading and dehumanising way, when we see a soldier tugging a prisoner along the ground by a dog leash about his neck, and reflect on the culture of humiliation that underpins this, then we know that the moral fabric of our world is being pulled apart, and that the time has come for us to reclaim again the truth of the resurrection by reasserting some basic and absolute human values of respect, tolerance and compassion. For it is only when we accord others the dignity due to them that we in fact discover our own humanity, as we uncover the truth that our at times dismal world may yet gloriously be transformed through mutual love. “By this,” Jesus says, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” an invitation and challenge in respect of which each one of us dare not fail Christ.
This is such a critical point; even in the midst of being surrounded by so much evil, we cannot forget to seek the glory of God. God is moving among us, with us, rolling through all things, and the movement of God is always from glory, to glory. We are called to move, as St. Paul tells us, from faith to faith, trusting that the glory of God will prevail. As we strive to discern God's movement, and join in this dance, we become co-creators with God, gloriously transforming this world through mutual love.


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