This week on the streets of Woolwich we witnessed both the worst and the best of human nature.
In the brutal, unprovoked attack on Drummer Lee Rigby we saw the worst that we as humans are capable of. It seemed almost unbelievable that such violence could unfold on an ordinary London street in the daytime – scenes on the television were more recognisable as a film than reality. It was shocking and repellent to see such evil.
Yet alongside this we also witnessed the very best of human nature. Whilst many of those who were at the scene fled in terror, whilst many others stood back in horror, paralysed by the awful events they were witnessing, there were three women who reacted very distinctively. One woman remonstrated with one of the attackers – telling him that such violence would never triumph and that the two of them stood alone whilst everyone else stood against them. Two other women, Amanda and Gemini Donnelly came and sat with Lee Rigby, holding his hand and praying for him as his life here ended.
These women do not welcome the applause they are being given, they say that they simply did what anyone would have done, but they acted with extraordinary courage and in the face of evil – deliberate destruction of life- they brought to this situation the exact opposite, love.
St Paul famously wrote, in his letter to the troubled church at Corinth, that love is patient and kind. Kind might sound a bit weak and inadequate in the Woolwich context but actually that is exactly what was needed. What Amanda and Gemini did was to show kindness and compassion to someone in need.
‘Loves bears all things’ St Paul wrote… In this dreadfully dark moment there was still a chink of light, as this two women prayed; they held the man who had been so violently assaulted, they did bear him, supported him, upheld him and loved him in an incredibly moving manner.
St Paul also says that ‘love never fails’. We might very reasonably react with horror to this episode and it seems that there are a number of lessons to be learnt. It would be easy to be negative and pessimistic about the state of this country when such an event occurs and of course we do rightly want to express our sorrow and sympathy for Lee Rigby and his family as we continue to pray for them today. But we can also be very proud of what those two women did for Drummer Rigby. They demonstrated that love is not overcome by evil, that love is stronger than death, and that love does stand up against even the most shocking evil.
It is fitting to talk about love on Trinity Sunday. We know that God is love not just because God acts lovingly but also because of the love that is generated with God- between the Father, the Spirit and the Son, the generous and dynamic flow of love that always seeks the good of the other, seeks to delight and give, always give….
We get a sense of the joy and delight that overflows from with God’s very self as we read today in Proverbs of the joy at creation and that same love that is expressed at creation continues today. The love of God reaches out, just as those women reached out, to embrace humanity- to bring kindness and compassion, to bear us and support us and to include us in the circle of love that has its source in God – the burning heart of reality.
We know that we, as humans, are capable of acts that are destructive, not just in brutal violence but also in more everyday ways such as unkindness or greed or just plain selfishness. But as the nation reflects on what has happened, as we now hold all those who were affected in our prayers, let us also pray that we can play our part in expressing the very best of human nature. Let us ask God to pour into our hearts his Spirit of love and give us the courage to actively demonstrate the power of love to triumph over evil. AMEN.