Bishop Guli's Blog, Talks and Publications


Drawing the past into the present for the sake of the future

I heard someone talking the other day on the Radio 4 programme, Moral Maze. He was questioning the concept of Remembrance Day, saying it’s not possible to remember what we weren’t there for.  Well, on the one hand that is true, and yet it doesn’t seem to capture the whole truth - the essence of what we’re here for today. A Christian understanding of remembrance doesn’t look back to past events just for the sake of renewing an old faded memory, rather it draws those events into the present, giving shape and meaning to our experiences now, whilst also propelling us into a future that’s full of hope. That’s what Christians do week in and week out when we celebrate Holy Communion. We pull the past events of Jesus’ death and resurrection into the here and now, where they influence our present reality and give us strength to build for a better future in light of the hope we have in the promise of eternal life.

Today I stand shoulder to shoulder with all of you. Many of us have been touched, one way or another, by the loss and tragedy which grows out of conflict and war. As we look back, in particular, to the horror of the Great War and give thanks for the peace that was brokered 100 years ago, we recognise the importance of living well with our many differences and we lean into the hope of a better, more peaceful future.

I’d like, if I may, to share two thoughts with you arising from my reflections on the bible passage we’ve heard read this afternoon from Saint Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth. Firstly, it seems significant to me that Saint Paul proclaims God as the one who says, “let light shine out of darkness”. There is no mention here of the light overcoming darkness; of overpowering it and turning night to day, as it were; simply that the light shines and refuses to be extinguished – it might be the tiny flicker of a candle flame incapable of illuminating all that’s around it or making the path ahead easy to follow but providing just enough light to guide one step at a time. There is recognition here of the ever present reality of pain and suffering in our world – of evil and brutality, in Christian terms of sin, and yet amidst it the offer of a fragile hope held out. Hope that we need not be overcome by the power of darkness nor allow it the final word but that we can choose to respond to hatred with love, to continue striving towards reconciliation, and working for a lasting peace.

And where we cannot do so as individuals because we’re weighed down by pain or anger, by resentment or by scars that are struggling to heal, then we can do so as a community, as a nation, with some carrying others, tenderly and with compassion and understanding. The flicker of the candle means that whilst we recognise that war is sometimes unavoidable, we will not allow ourselves to be defined by it, being shaped instead by our determination to work for peace, striving to bring good even out of the most evil of situations. Indeed here in our own city it was through this refusal to allow darkness the final word that the University of Leicester came into being. This speaks of resurrection and life, of hope for the future.

Secondly, there is much talk of resilience these days and in particular of the need to develop our capacity to be resilient. Indeed our bible passage refers to what we might well understand as encouragement to perfect the art of resilience: Saint Paul refers to “those who are afflicted in every way but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down but not destroyed”. The dictionary definition of the word resilient means the ability to spring back into shape after bending, stretching or being compressed - the ability to return to an original state after some kind of trauma. I confess this troubles me somewhat, perhaps especially within a British culture of stoicism and the stiff upper lip where we are encouraged not to complain but struggle on no matter what. A more helpful understanding of resilience, I suggest, is one that gives space not just for a return to the original state but for growth through suffering which sees human beings as capable not just of the capacity to return to our equilibrium but of developing through difficult situations, and of being transformed. In Christian terms, suffering can give us insights into the nature of God and bring us closer to God who understands well the power of evil through the cross of Christ. This is not to say that suffering is good or to be sought out but that those who have suffered, whilst never free of their scars can through their very woundedness become a blessing to others, sharing their vulnerability, and being signs of hope.

Paul refers in verse 7, to mortals as “clay jars” – as those who have the capacity to hold within us the treasure that is God’s light whilst having no power or strength of our own. Like earthenware vessels we are fragile, cracked and easily broken. But in a strange and mysterious way, in our very weakness we discover the root of our strength for it is because of the cracks, when we are worn down and weary, fractured and broken, that the light can shine through us enabling us to be those who can reach out to others in healing and reconciliation. We should not be hard on ourselves for our failures to achieve more since the end of the Great War but be encouraged by all the many successes and by the ongoing commitment to work for peace and reconciliation.

In a remarkable collection of short stories and essays entitled “River Teeth” the American author David James Duncan writes about often unlikely characters undergoing complex and violent processes of transformation, with results that are both painful and wondrous.  Moving between fact and fiction, Duncan distils truths that shine a light on the human condition. He describes, for example, the slow process of disintegration that begins after a tree snaps and falls into a river. “The fallen tree”, he says, “becomes a naked log, [and then] the log begins to lead a kind of afterlife in the river, and this afterlife is, in some ways, of greater benefit to the river than was the original life of the tree.” Whilst living, trees provide shade and shelter for animals but a tree that has snapped in two and fallen into the water “creates a vast transfusion of nutrients … a river feast” giving new life to the waters that surround it. In its very brokenness the tree becomes a source of life to others and ensures the health of the river.

So we remember with thanksgiving the sacrifice of those who gave so much for the freedoms and the life that we enjoy, and we hold before God those who continue to put themselves in danger for the sake of our safely. And as we remember and give thanks so we commit ourselves to continue working ceaselessly for a peaceful future where our many differences become a source of celebration rather than division.

Remembrance Day 2018

Preached at Coalville in the morning and

the Cathedral in the afternoon

2 Corinthians 4.6-12




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