This week as you will all be aware an awful, hateful and brutal event took place in Manchester. There can never be any excuse for murder; murder is always an act of hate. As Christians the questions we must always ask ourselves when we encounter violence and hatred include how do we respond in the face of hate and injustice? And, when the world is full of hostility and violence what should be our first, primal, deepest instinct?
These were the questions both Jesus and the early Christian community, which was a persecuted community, had to ask. They are questions of holiness. Today’s readings perhaps provide something of an answer.
In the Gospel St. John provides us with an insight into Jesus’ own interior or prayer life. Jesus knows that he is about to be handed over to the authorities, who have colluded against him, and that the only possible outcome is his execution, crucifixion, or murder. He is about to feel and experience, bodily and spiritually, the worst consequences of injustice and human depravity or, sin. So what does he do? He prays:
‘Holy Father protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.’
Jesus’ prayer is for unity because Jesus knows that hatred seeks not only to damage, hurt and, kill, but to divide, and of course it is through division that hatred perpetuates and further violence is fed. We must not allow hatred to win. Through prayer we must learn the art of overcoming hatred; through prayer we can develop the virtue of Godly unity. Godly unity is based on a resolve to never stop loving, caring and working for justice. The people of Manchester stood out this week for the love that they showed expressed through countless acts of hospitality and charity. Hospitality, charity, the pursuit of justice and love, these are ultimately winning qualities because they are kingdom qualities.
The centrality of prayer is beautifully depicted in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The early Christians knew that they had a mandate to preach the Gospel both in word and deed. They not only talked of the Gospel but became the living embodiment of the Gospel. But they knew that they could not represent Jesus and his values without living lives rooted in and, routed from prayer. As the reading from the Acts of the Apostles reminds us:
‘All of these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus (who let us remember had recently watched her beloved son being crucified) as well as his brothers.’
The first instinct of the early Church was to pray. So here is the question: ‘is our first instinct to pray?’ I would like to suggest that prayer must be the oxygen we breathe and, that as Christians anything that we do must be rooted in prayer and routed from prayer. Prayer doesn’t change God but it sure changes us. It is through prayer that unity is preserved and hatred, justice and violence defeated. It is through prayer that we remain strong when we feel week and impotent. It is through prayer that we might just start the process of making sense of the senseless. It is through prayer that we become peace makers. It is through prayer that our stock of holiness increases. It is through prayer that that the kingdom of God breaks through and triumphs.
The Archbishops have called for a national renewal in the prayer life of the church. They are right to do so. Following the barbarity of the Manchester bombing their plea feels even more apposite. Can I urge you to pray the Lord’s prayer each morning and evening between now and Pentecost? Can, I encourage you to particularly allow the phrase ‘thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,’ to penetrate the very depths of your heart?As Gandhi once said: ‘be the change you want to see.’ The place where change takes root and violence overcome is prayer. If you want to see a better more Godly world pray for it. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown