Minister’s Letter April

Dear friends,

As I write this letter, I am travelling from Brussels to Paris on the Thalys.  It is the first time that I have travelled this way since an attack on the Thalys was foiled last August.  Yesterday, was the first time I travelled on the Metro since Brussels was attacked by terrorists on the morning of the 22nd March.  Some of the stations are blacked out; there is an eeriness around Brussels Metro at the moment.  I have not had the courage to revisit the departure hall at Zaventem airport.  When I do I am not sure how I will feel.  When I arrived at Gare du Nord in Paris, the police presence was  significant.

There were a number of people in our congregation caught up in the attacks one way or another; some people escaped, others sustained minor injuries, others knew some of those who died in the Metro attack.  We hear stories of people who escaped harm by, what seems like, the skin of their teeth.

Acts of terror are not a new phenomenon.  When I was young people in certain parts of the UK were directly affected by the ‘troubles’ of Ireland. There remain dissident groups of republicans that cause problems.  When civilians are targeted and are deliberately killed and injured it is the ultimate act of cowardice.

So what changed in Brussels on 22nd March.  The word that has come to my mind time and again is ‘violated’.  People no longer feel safe making their way through the city.  Journeys that we once took for granted, that were part of the regular routine, are not the same.  We feel afraid.  We look at some people with a culture of suspicion- does that person have malicious intent?  Does the diversity of our cosmopolitan city have it’s drawbacks?  How effective are those who are supposed to protect us from acts of terror?

Ultimately, whatever risk we face in the present climate, we must continue to get on with our lives with vigilance and remembering those who bear the scars and the pain of the terrorist attacks.  If we stop living ‘normally’, then the perpetrators of the most cowardly brutality, will have won a victory of a sort.  We cannot allow ourselves to be intimated and frightened in that way.

In the wake of the attacks, a number of biblical themes have been at the heart of my thinking.

To begin with, we might remember that there was a culture of suspicion in Jesus’ day.  The Jews and the Samaritans were sworn enemies over their different interpretations of scripture.  Yet Jesus makes the point of speaking to a Samaritan woman in John chapter 4 and then there is the well known story of the Good Samaritan [Lk: 10:25-37].  Jesus is breaking through the culture of suspicion that the two communities had for each other.

Then there is the principle of ‘fear’. How do we face our fears; our personal fears and the general fear of not feeling safe in public places?  Part of the work that Jesus does in our lives is to address those fears; think of the apostles on a boat during a squall on Lake Galilee, terrified out of their wits, among them seasoned fishermen [Matt 8:23-27].  The words of Psalmist, have brought me much comfort in recent weeks. ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ [Ps 46:1]

There is also the theme of hope in the midst of adversity.  The gospel story does not end on Good Friday- if it had done- Christianity would have been a lost cause.  The gospel gives an account of resurrection hope.  On the Cross Christ endures the experience of human death (in all its cruel agony) and shares with us his resurrection.  As the apostle Paul puts it, we are co-heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17).

Part of our inheritance is resurrection life, in heaven, under the fullness of Christ’s glorious reign. Particularly in the face such appalling adversity- we must not lose sight of the hope that we have in Christ.

Lastly, the scriptures leave us in no doubt about the reality of human evil in the world.  The Bible describes evil of any kind (moral evil, spiritual evil or both together) as darkness; but as John reminds us at the start of his gospel – the light of Christ shines in that darkness [1:5].

Wishing you the peace of Christ that passes all understanding,

Your minister and friend,