Second Sunday before Advent: A Tale of Two Walls

Canon Alan Amos in Geneva reflects on this week’s lectionary Gospel, Luke 21.5-19.

‘Some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God; Jesus said: as for these things you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’ (Luke 21.5)

What is an edifice? A quick look in the dictionary came up with:

  1. a large imposing building;
  2. a complex system of beliefs, e.g. ‘the concepts on which the edifice of capitalism was built.’

I am not about to demolish the edifice of capitalism, oh no! Though I think we are all entitled to examine its foundations and the way it is expressed in our world in real terms.

But what started my train of thought was two things: the Jerusalem Temple, and the Berlin wall. And it is worth pondering what ‘complex system of beliefs’ resulted in the erection of each these two edifices.

In the case of the Temple, it was the ardent desire of the people of Israel to have a sanctuary where they could feel that God was present among them, one sanctuary that expressed the unity of God with his people. A place of worship; a focus of unity. In Luke’s Gospel, the Temple bridges between the old and new covenants; it is there that Simeon and Anna welcome and recognise the Christ. And of course the complex system of beliefs sustaining the Temple was shown forth in offerings and sacrifices. It was so hard for lovers of God to be told that the days of the Temple were numbered, not just because of ungodliness or failure, but – and perhaps this was particularly hard for faithful people to take – because when God visits his people in Christ, then Christ is the Presence in the midst, the Temple. The coming of Christ turns all things upside down, not just the stones of the Temple, as the words of Jesus race on beyond the destruction of the Temple to prophecy the ending of all things and ‘the coming of the Son of Man in a cloud with power and great glory.’ In the words of Jesus and in the understanding of Luke, the time of crisis, of testing, has arrived. We have no security any longer except in God. No edifice made by human hands can shelter us. Hear the Advent message coming upon us undiluted !

The Berlin wall was also a large and imposing structure, meant to dominate and intimidate. Unlike the Temple, it had no vocation to be an ornament. It is difficult to realise, now it is utterly cast down, that it was built to a purpose which made sense to those who built it. It also was the result of ‘a complex system of beliefs’, and it was only when that system began to crumble that the wall itself became vulnerable. We have been remembering in Europe the thirtieth anniversary of its fall.berlin wall wcc

The fragment of the Berlin Wall in the garden of the Ecumenical Centre. Photo copyright, Ivars Kupcis, WCC

Tucked away near the carpark of the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, in the remains of the adjacent garden, stands today a chunk of the Berlin wall, brought there as a kind of memorial offering, a marker for memory, by the reformed churches of the now re-united Germany. You can stand there, look at it, see the graffiti splurged across it, and feel…

… feel the cost in lives lost in trying to get over this wall,

… feel the human blindness that went into its construction,

… mourn for the human blindness that still defaces the world in which we live, mars its beauty and harmony. Geneva and the United Nations, despite all disappointments and faults, still stand as a sign of hope for a better world beyond our reach. Not beyond the reach of God : ‘Thy Kingdom come!’ I suppose this chunk of wall is a kind of relic; a necessary reminder of the gap between where we should be as human beings, and where we are. But also in a world in turmoil, a reminder that all is not lost, good can yet prevail and swallow up the emptiness of evil in its victory.

Edifaces; buildings; imposing monuments; they all turn to dust, but the word of the Lord endures for ever:

‘Pride of man and earthly glory,

sword and crown betray his trust;

What with care and toil he buildeth,

tower and temple fall to dust.

But God’s power, hour by hour,

is my temple and my tower.’ (Robert Bridges)

 

 

 

 

Remembrance Sunday: Lord of Time

The following prayer was not in fact written with Remembrance Sunday in mind. It was originally produced to accompany a series of Bible studies which reflected on the importance of the word ‘today’ in the Gospel of Luke. At key points in this Gospel the word ‘today’ appears, stressing both the urgency of Jesus’ actions, and also the way that the life of Christ needs to be interpreted in the context of both the past and the future.

However due to a set of fortunate coincidences, Simone Meyer, a member of Holy Trinity Church, Geneva, suggested using this prayer as part of the intercessions for Remembrance Sunday 2018, where it seemed to be appreciated. In fact it also fits quite well with this year’s suggested lectionary Gospel reading for Remembrance Sunday, Luke 20.27-38, which clearly speaks of God as the one who transcends the normal boundaries of time. So the prayer is offered for this purpose again, with its final stanza a deliberate reminder that what we do ‘today’ will affect our, and our children’s, tomorrows.

Faithful father, minder of our yesterdays,
We thank you for your blessing and cherishing,
For your care which has brought us and all creation to this day.
Forgive the failings of our past,
the false steps and paths that we have taken
in our lives and in our histories,
As individuals, as nations, as members of your own people.
Grant us the courage not to forget,
Not to stifle the sounds of suffering in which we have been complicit;
Encourage us also to trust in your power to redeem,
Your willingness to work with flawed humanity and re-create an earth
Which all can celebrate with you as truly good.

Holy Spirit, hope for our tomorrows,
Grant us vision of the future of this world as you would have it be.
Inspire us with your power and grace us with your gifts and fruits –
Love, joy and peace, generosity and gentleness,
Faithfulness and kindness, patience and self-control.
May they become seeds in us, taking root deep within our lives,
Starting-points for change and growth.
Speak into the divisions and hatreds of these days,
In the turmoil, open our ears to catch your quiet breath,
And give us voice to echo your aching and longing for the promised time,
When in communion with you true life and freedom will be shared by all.

Christ, comforter yet challenger of our todays,
You are the beginning and end of creation,
Drawing together past and future,
Threading them into the texture of the present.
Through your life and ministry you showed us the importance of ‘today’,
Of carrying out God’s mission in the world of here and now.
You did not allow yourself to be bound by time past
Nor await impassive for an unseen future.
Still, today, you do not let us stand aside and delay,
But urgently you offer us both salvation and judgement.
You demand that we choose, and invite us to work with you
To accomplish God’s purpose, yesterday, for ever and today. Amen.

Clare Amos

The visit made by the 2018-2019 diocesan Ministry Experience Scheme interns to the First World War graves in Ypres in March 2019 made a deep impression on those who participated.

connelly and group 2

All Saints Day: Work in progress – all saints – us!

What is the correct tense to use when you are thinking about a saint? Is a saint primarily a figure of the past – such as John Henry Newman whose very recent canonization in Rome we in the Diocese in Europe we have shared in celebrating? Is it, are it, special people we encounter in the present who we are happy to call saints in the here and now? Or when we think of saints do our minds turn to those celebrating in God’s heavenly future?

The lectionary readings for All Saints encourage us to think about saints with a variety of tenses. The reading from Daniel 7.1-3; 15-18 draws us both to the past and the future, the Gospel of Luke 6.20-31 – with its typically Lukan ‘now’ keeps our feet firmly in the present; readings often used at the Feast of All Saints from the Book of Revelation encourage us to keep our eyes on the future (though actually Revelation is not used in this year’s lectionary suggestions for the Feast).

newman celeb

The celebration of the canonization in Rome of John Henry Newman was clearly enjoyed by members of the Diocese in Europe and others. 

What I love about the lectionary Epistle set for All Saints on this particular year (Ephesians 1.11-23) is that somehow it links together past, present and future. Clearly ‘time’ itself is important as a background to understanding this passage as it is prefaced by the comment about a ‘plan for the fullness of time’ (Ephesians 1.10). It then goes on to reflect on the ‘inheritance’ we have already obtained, and speaks at a couple of points also about our future ‘hope’ of the ‘glorious inheritance among the saints’. But in the middle of all this there is one of my (and my husband’s) favourite lines of scripture, as the author prays that ‘the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened’. The ‘eyes of the heart’ is such a wonderful and evocative image in so many ways. Perhaps inevitably (given that I love the story of the Road to Emmaus!) it reminds me of those disciples who had opened eyes and hearts on fire through their encounter with the Risen Christ on that particular journey. But the image of the enlightening of the heart also reminds us that sainthood and holiness itself is a journey and a process which we ourselves are presently participating in, as we gradually find the light shining more and more brightly within us and transforming us as it does. The riches of the past and the hope for the future provide a resource for us. And what is our guide in the present? Tellingly the chapter concludes with a reference to the church, which is intimately related to Christ using the metaphor of body. Saints are not made in isolation, they are grown in and through this community of faith.

This brief reflection began with a reference to John Henry Newman, so it is appropriate to conclude by drawing on the words of the one who presided so recently at his ceremony of canonization, in which he reflects on such ‘work in progress’ for the making of all saints:

‘Let the grace of your baptism bear fruit in a path of holiness. Let everything be open to God; turn to him in every situation. Do not be dismayed, for the power of the Holy Spirit enables you to do this, and holiness, in the end, is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life (cf. Gal 5.22-23). When you feel the temptation to dwell on your own weakness, raise your eyes to Christ crucified and say: “Lord, I am a poor sinner, but you can work the miracle of making me a little bit better”. In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness. The Lord has bestowed on the Church the gifts of scripture, the sacraments, holy places, living communities, the witness of the saints and a multifaceted beauty that proceeds from God’s love, “like a bride bedecked with jewels” (Is 61.10).’ (Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation: Gaudete et Exsultate, 2018, para. 15)

Clare Amos

Bible Sunday: Spirit and Word

Geneva feels the right place to be writing this lectionary blog for next Sunday, which, according to the Common Worship lectionary, can be observed as ‘Bible Sunday’.

Back in the days when the BCP shaping of the liturgical year held sway in the Church of England, ‘Bible Sunday’ was kept on the Second Sunday of Advent. I understand this date was selected by Cranmer as a mark of the importance of the Bible – and so the Sunday on which it was particularly honoured deliberately came near the very beginning of the Christian year. I can see the arguments for the shift to where it is now, although as it happens remembering the importance of the Bible in the first half of Advent does work well, as we think of the prophets who foretold the coming of the birth of Christ:

‘Whom the voices of the prophets
Promised in their faithful word’.

I am sure that part of the reason for choosing the end of October as the date when modern lectionaries draw specific attention to the Bible is linked to the fact that October 31st has for a long time been commemorated as ‘Reformation Day’. The link between the Reformation of the 16th century and an increased importance given to the Bible in the life of the Church is widely known and accepted.

One of the ways that the importance of the Bible was made clear was the insistence that people should be able to read the Bible in their own language. And that copies of the Bible should be available and accessible for many people to own – rather than as had been the case previously locked up in churches. And this is where Geneva played a vital role – even or especially for the English speaking world. Because it was the English-speaking community in Geneva, who had fled to the city to escape the persecution of Protestants that was taking place in England during the reign of Queen Mary who translated and initially published ‘the Geneva Bible’, the first really wide-spread translated version of scripture in English. It is difficult to realise now, due partly to the influence of the King James or ‘Authorised Version’ since the middle of the 17th century, just how dominant was the Geneva Bible for the first century after its initial appearance. Even when the Authorised Version arrived in 1611 it was still far from certain that it would succeed in ousting ‘the Geneva Bible’ from its place of pre-eminence among English speakers. One of the features of the Geneva Bible that made it especially popular was its size – comparatively small and designed so that families (at least of moderate income) could expect to possess their own copy. But there was another feature of the Bible that also marked it out, namely that there were a considerable number of ‘explanatory notes’ offered by the translators to guide its readers to understand the text in a particular way. It was in essence the first ‘study Bible’. It has been remarked how these ‘notes’ encouraged the reading of the biblical text in what was seen as a more Protestant direction – more overtly critical of institutions like kings and bishops! That of course reflected the standpoint of its originators in Geneva.acts geneva bible

The beginning of the Book of Acts from an early published copy of the Geneva Bible.

Initially it seems that these ‘notes’ were one of the Bible’s selling points. But gradually I think they became viewed as rather problematic, and were perhaps part of the reason why the Authorised Version eventually won out. (Though it has to be said that the support given to the Authorised Version by the powers-that-be in England, also must have helped its progress.) But I think this tells us something important about the nature of scripture, and our understanding of it as the word of God. Certainly for me the actual inspiration of the Bible is to be found in the text itself and the text’s interaction with the response of the worshipping listener or reader (you or me), rather than in ‘notes’ provided by earlier students of the text, however eminent, learned or holy they might be.

I see this pattern in the Gospel passage the lectionary suggests for this coming Sunday, the account of Jesus’ sermon in the synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4.16-24). Jesus quotes a biblical text – the words of the prophet Isaiah, and then addresses it to the situation of his day, beginning with the telling word ‘Today’. It is out of this interaction that the ‘power’ of the original biblical text – Isaiah – is realised. That for me is a model of ‘inspiration’ in which both text and the contemporary worshipping community have a part to play.

I think that Cranmer’s collect for the original Bible Sunday, with its wonderful line which suggests that in respect of the Scriptures we should, ‘hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them’ offers us permission to reflect on the Bible in this way. Both the verbs ‘learn’ and ‘digest’ require actual and active participation on the part of the listener and reader. Inspiration comes in the interpretive process in which scriptural text and faithful believer engage in mutual dialogue.

In my travels around the diocese a few months ago I participated in Sunday worship in one of our chaplaincies where the reading of scripture in worship was concluded by the reader saying, ‘Hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches’. That profoundly biblical affirmation – it occurs several times in the early chapters of the Book of Revelation – gets to the heart of the matter. It has just the right amount of quizzical ambiguity about it. We are affirming that through our listening to the texts we have just heard read we expect to hear the Spirit of God speaking to us. We are not saying that every word which has just been read is authoritative for us today. We are however confessing our faith that in the meeting between this reading and this listening we believe that the Spirit of God is truly present.

 

Trinity 18: Persistence in Prayer

Barbara Moss is an Assistant Director of Ordinands of the Diocese in Europe. She was the Chaplain in Gothenburg, Sweden from 2005 to 2015, and served as Area Dean for the Nordic and Baltic Deanery and Editor of the Diocesan Prayer Diary. Here, she reflects on the theme of persistence in prayer, as presented in Luke 18.1-8 and 2 Timothy 3.14-4.5. She finishes with a quotation from the visions of Julian of Norwich, and the picture below shows an artistic depiction of Julian’s visions in the chapel at Ditchingham, Norfolk, photographed at a study weekend of the Eastern Region Ministry Course.

The theme of today’s gospel, persistence in prayer, was dear to St Luke’s heart. In telling the story of Jesus’ infancy, he presents two senior members of the Temple congregation: Simeon, ‘looking forward to the consolation of Israel’, and Anna, spending the years of her widowhood in the temple ‘with fasting and prayer night and day.’

The unjust judge in this strange story is hardly how we imagine God. Yet many of us can give a wry smile of recognition at the way the judge gets so fed up with the widow’s perpetual nagging that he gives in just to stop her bothering him. I once saw an enactment of this parable by a mother and her four children. The star of the show was the four-year-old who kept on crying out ‘I’m thirsty’, and in the end, all four got what they wanted.

The theme of persistence in prayer had a special message to Luke’s congregation, vulnerable in their context, wherever they were, just as the disciples had been vulnerable in Jerusalem in the days after the resurrection.

And it has a special message in our contexts, whatever it is that leads us to pray for justice: climate change, political turmoil, or the demands of secularism, to name just a few. In my role as an Assistant Director of Ordinands, I have had the privilege of meeting men and women from various chaplaincies in our diocese, and reflecting with them on how the five marks of mission are worked out there. ‘To seek to transform the unjust structures of society’ can, indeed, be costly, in places where living as a Christian may be difficult or dangerous. Paul urged Timothy, ‘Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage.’ But sometimes prayer is the only thing we can do.

In my lifetime, many have seen answers to years of faithful prayer in the end of the Vietnam War, the collapse of Apartheid, the demolition of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany, or the breakup of the USSR. In their prayers, they were crying to God for justice. And when the end came, it came quickly.

This does not mean that it is always clear where justice lies. Sincere Christians may be praying against each other, just as they may be voting against each other, or fighting against each other. We pray daily for the coming of God’s Kingdom, but see only a very small part of the picture of what this might mean. Some of the Psalms – the prayers with which Jesus grew up – express anger and frustration, and make very uncomfortable reading for us.

Jesus himself cried out on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ But he also prayed, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’

ditchingham

The answer to prayer is not always Yes. Sometimes the immediate answer is more like ‘I never said this was going to be easy.’ I am reminded of the words received by Julian of Norwich, in one of the visions revealed to her in her illness:

‘He said not, “Thou shalt not be tempted, thou shalt not be travailed, thou shalt not be diseased”, but he said, “Thou shalt not be overcome”.’

Trinity 17: Giving thanks

Clare Amos, the Director of Lay Discipleship, uses the lectionary Old Testament reading (2 Kings 5.1-3,7-15c) and the Gospel (Luke 17.11-19) to explore the importance of thankfulness. The picture below, which shows Hambledon Hill, close to where she lives when in Dorset, always evokes in Clare a sense of thankfulness.

It’s a great short punchline in today’s Gospel reading! ‘And he was a Samaritan.’ (Luke 17.16) For me, part of the inspiration of Scripture is when it says less rather than more – and leaves us to fill in the gaps for ourselves. So Luke’s Gospel doesn’t give us all the details of Jewish and Samaritan interrelationships – or the lack of them. Rather the Gospel lets us work out for ourselves the apparent contradiction that a Samaritan, the very person who might have been expected to be hostile to Jesus as a Jew, is the one person in this group of ten who both thanks Jesus and praises God for his healing.

Thanksgiving and gratitude are motifs which link together the Gospel and the Old Testament ‘connected’ reading (2 Kings 5.1-3,7-15c) which tells the tale of Namaan the Syrian.

Years ago, in my early days of studying theology, I came across the comment, ‘Gratitude is the primary ethical emotion.’ At this point in time I really cannot remember where it came from or who said it, but it is a remark that that has remained with me as a key interpretative principle for life – and thought – ever since. It must have been around the same time that I first came across the spiritual classic by J Neville Ward, The Use of Praying, which explores the various dimensions of the life of prayer. There are lots of spiritual nuggets in that book, but the primary take-away that I have always treasured is Neville Ward’s insistence that Christian prayer needs to begin with thanking – rather than say confession or intercession, which is often thought of as the starting-point for prayer. He suggests that confession and then intercession do indeed spring out of thankfulness – but that it is thankfulness which comes first. Here are a few of his gems:

  • ‘Thankfulness is happiness spontaneously reaching out beyond itself, wanting to make contact with its cause.’
  • ‘All prayer is some form or extension of thanksgiving or offering.’
  • ‘It is far more important that young Christians should be taught that Christianity is a religion dominated by thankfulness than that “he died to make us good”.’
  • ‘Thankfulness and appreciation of life unlock the door to the prison of the self.’

And of course Neville Ward also points out that one of the names for the primary and distinctive act of Christian worship is ‘Eucharist’ – a word which simply means thanksgiving. This comes home to me especially when I am on holiday in Greece and the regular word for ‘thank you’ in common speech is efcharisto, which derives from the same Greek root. Whenever I am in that country I go round saying efcharisto more frequently than I would usually say ‘thank you’, simply because I like being reminded of the connection!

hambledon hill

The tale of Namaan the Syrian and his healing from leprosy is one of the great Old Testament stories that both young and old can appreciate. The fact that it is referred to in the New Testament, in the course of Jesus’ synagogue sermon in Nazareth (Luke 4.27), suggests that it was seen as an exemplar by later generations. It speaks both of the importance of thankfulness – Namaan’s response after his healing is profound – and also of a sense of wonder, on the part of those who drew together the biblical traditions, as well as on the part of Namaan himself – that God’s generosity can be shown in this way to a person who was outside the covenant community. Indeed somehow the two: his alien status and his sense of thankfulness belong together (as indeed is also the case with the Samaritan of Luke 17). What might this mean for those of us who feel very much that we ‘belong’ – whether it is to the household of faith or to particular political and national entities? Do we somehow need the gift of being helped to see our reality through the fresh and different eyes of others to enable us to appreciate life in a spirit of thankfulness? Is part of our current political problem a ‘weariness’ about Europe so that we do not realise how fortunate we are to live in this continent?

I am a bit sorry that the lectionary editors chose to conclude the Old Testament reading with verse 15. Because one of my favourite titbits in the Old Testament comes a couple of verses further along. When Elisha refuses Namaan’s offer of a present to show gratitude for his healing, Namaan responds by asking for ‘two mule-loads of earth’ (2 Kings 5.17) to take back with him to Damascus. The reason for his request is that when he is back in Damascus he intends to worship the God of Elisha and Israel. However this sat uneasily with the theology of the time in which particular gods – including the God of Israel – were each identified with a particular nation and a particular territory. So Namaan asks for a little bit of the territory of Israel to create as it were an ‘embassy’ of the God of Israel in Damascus. It is deliciously quaint, yet it also marks a breakthrough which will eventually lead to a profound awareness of the incomparability of the God we worship as Lord of time and space. And it is Namaan’s spirit of thankfulness which begins to open the door to this insight.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the lectionary readings selected by Common Worship for Harvest also encourage us to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness. That is especially true of the Old Testament passage, Deuteronomy 26.1-11. Many of our chaplaincies will be celebrating harvest festival around this time: in Holy Trinity Geneva we did so last Sunday. The key message of the excellent sermon was that we should remember our history, and remember the stranger. Both of which seem to me to be a vital part of what thankfulness should mean.

Trinity 16: Suffering for the Gospel

Dr Clare Amos, Director of Lay Discipleship in the Diocese and administrator of this blog, focuses on this week’s lectionary epistle to look briefly at a topic which is both sensitive and of contemporary relevance.

A first look at this week’s lectionary biblical readings could not easily spot the connection between them! Indeed such links can sometimes appear forced. The texts are not easy at all – the Gospel reading from Luke (Luke 17.5-10) reminds us sharply of the evil institution of slavery which was certainly a feature of the Graeco-Roman Gentile world of Jesus’ time, though less so among the Jewish community. I have to say that I proactively want the words seemingly spoken by Jesus in this passage to be sentiments that Luke the gospel writer has placed in Jesus’ mouth rather than the actual words of the historical Jesus himself! It is interesting that they are introduced with the comment, ‘The Lord replied’, rather than ‘Jesus replied’ – a slightly unusual phrasing that made me feel that my instinct that these words are quite distant from the mindset of the earthly Jesus may well be correct.

What seems to link the three readings is the motif of ‘faith’: its power (Luke 17.5-6), its life-giving quality (Habakkuk 2.4), and its link, according to Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 1.1-14), both to what one can learn from parents and grandparents, and to ‘sound teaching.’

Paul’s comments though also open up an issue that is still very live for us, or at least for many Christians, today – the potential link between suffering and our faith. ‘Join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God.’ (2 Timothy 1.8) A report has recently been produced by the Bishop of Truro, commissioned by Jeremy Hunt when he was Foreign Secretary, https://christianpersecutionreview.org.uk/storage/2019/07/final-report-and-recommendations.pdf which explores the issue of the persecution of Christians in several parts of our contemporary world and makes key recommendations. Though welcoming the report ‘as the start of a wider conversation and a deeper dialogue’ another piece of work commissioned by the Anglican mission agency USPG has highlighted has offered the challenge that it is important not to look at the situations through the eyes of British Christians alone.

https://uspglive.org.uk/wpress/2019/07/a-response-to-the-bishop-of-truros-review-of-fco-support-for-persecuted-christians/

It is interesting of course that both the author of the initial report and USPG itself have close connections with our diocese in Europe. The Bishop of Truro is Philip Mounstephen – formerly chaplain in St Michael’s Paris – and USPG is a current partner of the Diocese in Europe in work such as the refugee ministry in the Pas de Calais. A reminder, if such were needed, that the issue of freedom of religion and belief is equally relevant this side of La Manche as well.

It is certainly a topic with which I myself have felt engaged for many years, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. My years in fairly early adulthood spent living in Lebanon during its period of civil war in which religion was undoubtedly a factor, has influenced me ever since. My Lebanese experience in fact has made me only too aware that Christians can be the perpetrators of religiously inspired violence as well as the victims of it. That of course is relevant to us in Europe today. It is probably true that the worst example of violence in Europe since the Second World War instigated by people who at least partially linked their actions to their religion was the massacre of Bosnian Muslims by Christians in Srebrenica in 1995. I don’t think that in western Europe we yet fully realise the impact that atrocity has had on global Christian-Muslim relations.

I would however question whether the work done by USPG (or indeed the original Truro report) has fully taken into account the particular features of Christian spirituality that can make Christians especially susceptible to becoming the victims of violence. Our theology of the vulnerability of God expressed through the Cross, and the honouring of those who are ‘weak’, can act like a direct incentive to ‘bullies’ to show their apparent power by acts of discrimination and persecution.

Westminster_Abbey_-_20th-century_Martyrs

The statues of 20th century martyrs outside Westminster Abbey

I could write much more on this topic – and indeed am working on a book exploring issues of religion and violence from a theological perspective – but I leave you for now with this comment, made by a Christian from the Middle East, which seems to resonate with Paul’s words in 2 Timothy: ‘Martyrdom is not seeking death for the sake of Christ; martyrdom is seeking life. But if asked to carry the cross to death, we need to be obedient.’