St Francis, Terriers - Trinity 1 (18.06.2017)

Tony Dickinson

Healing was central to Jesus’s proclamation of the good news of the kingdom. It was central to the task of the apostles. It is central to the Church’s task today. We too are called and commissioned by the Lord to share in the work he gave to those who followed him two thousand years ago: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” Show today the compassion of Jesus for those who are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”

The need has never been more urgent. It is not only individuals, it is communities and nations which are in desperate need of healing in these days. Demons that we imagined had been cast out for ever have in recent years returned to haunt us: and no one appears to know what to do. Terrorism, civil conflict, the rise of populist nationalism and racist extremism, violence in the name of God – all of these things were bad enough. And then came Grenfell Tower. How are the demons there to be cast out? How is that situation to be healed? Who can speak words of healing to the mother whose five-year-old was parted from her in a smoke-filled stairway and has not been seen since? Who can take away the “survivors’ guilt” of the brothers who made their way to safety only to discover that another brother was still trapped inside the blazing building? And who can assuage the anger of those who have been warning for years that the building was a disaster waiting to happen and who have now seen their worst fears realised?

Not the politicians, I suspect. The Prime Minister’s interview on Friday with Emily Maitlis made painful viewing. Damian Green on the “Today” programme yesterday wasn’t much better. Jeremy Corby did what Jeremy Corbyn does, which may have comforted those who met him, but he has no power to deliver much more than hugs and warm words of support. And the local authority is way out of its depth, its complacency and penny-pinching identified by many as contributory causes of the disaster. As Fraser Nelson, the editor of “The Spectator” has written, “dozens of [the most vulnerable people in our society] were killed – through, it seems, near-contemptuous neglect from various layers of government.”

In his address at the vigil of prayer for the victims on Friday, the Bishop of Kensington spoke of five stages in our reaction to the horrors of Wednesday. He spoke of shock, as we learned of the disaster that had occurred, of compassion, as people have piled in with a superabundance clothing and food and other necessities for those who have lost everything, and of grief, as those who have been bereaved begin to acknowledge their loss. He spoke too of the pride in the way in which our emergency services have gone about their work since the small hours of Wednesday morning, and of the anger which the survivors and many of their supporters feel at the ways in which the richest borough in one of the richest cities in one of the richest countries in the world has treated those of its residents who are weakest and most vulnerable.

But above all Bishop Graham spoke about hope: not the vain hope that somehow those who are missing might still be alive but, to quote the Bishop, “hope [that] there is a future, that lives can be rebuilt, that this community can be restored, a hope for a better future where everyone, regardless of ethnicity, religion, income and background is able to live in safety and security.” In that emphasis he echoed St Paul’s words in our first reading, when he wrote to the Christians of Rome that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

So today our prayer embraces not only those for whose healing we have an immediate concern, but also the people of Grenfell Tower – both the survivors and those who didn’t make it out alive – and for the surrounding communities, who have been so generous in their support. As Bishop Graham said on Friday, “there are times when all you can do is pray .... Prayer reminds us there is God who weeps with those who weep, who hears the cries of the poor and disadvantaged, and while there are many things that happen in God’s world that are not part of his will, in the end, his purposes will one day be fulfilled. We believe in the God of Resurrection, the God of hope. And today this is what we need – Hope that does not eliminate our shock, our compassion, our pride, our anger, but transcends it, lifts it and makes a future possible.”

This morning, then, let us surround with our prayers both the people in our thoughts and in our hearts and all those whose lives have been shattered by the events of Wednesday, all who are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Let us give thanks for the selfless courage of the emergency services and the generosity of neighbours, people of all faiths and of none who have given food and clothing and other necessities in such abundance. And let us pray for those whose indifference to the poor and vulnerable in their midst has led, directly or indirectly, to so great a tragedy, remembering that the God of hope to whom we pray is also the God of justice. To him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit...