Earlier this month there wasa quiet service of remembrance for all of the victims of the Tunisian terrorist attack at St Nicholas Church in Biddestone, including the two local victims, Eileen Swannack and John Welch.
Led by Revd Jonathan Philpott, the service included a Bible reading, some prayers, the national minutes silence, and opportunities for reflection.
Here aresome of Revd Jonathan Philpott's words to those gathered:
Words in themselves will not be enough to express our feelings about what has happened. Today may not take away pain, anger, fear or sadness. But it may help us to begin to see how God is present and working through our experiences and begin to help us to find a sense of peace amidst the turmoil of the last week.
At this time of sorrow the Lord is in our midst and consoles us with his word and with his presence. He is the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation. He comforts us in all our afflictions and enables us to comfort those who grieve with the same consolation we have received from him.
One of the questions that I have been asked most this week is, What message can the church give to those affected by these terrible events? For once, I was able to answer with confidence. As a church, we cannot take away anger, hurt, pain or sadness. They are emotions and feelings that will lie deeply within us, and it is right to express those emotions. They are an important part of the grieving process, and to deny them is to deny a part of who we are.
The message that we can bring is of a God who deeply cares about each and every individual person. A God who promises that he will stand alongside us at every moment of life, who carries us when we are unable to carry ourselves, who bears our burdens when they are too much for us to carry, who brings hope and peace in the middle of a world marked by turmoil, violence and tragedy.
However, it would be very fair to challenge that, and ask if God is so loving, so caring, so interested, how can he stand by and watch innocent people being gunned down, beheaded, and tortured. Why doesnt he do something about that? And Im not sure there is an easy answer to that question.
What I do know is that God never promised that these things would not happen, because at the very heart of a loving God is the decision to give each of us a choice. Each and every day, every human being has the choice to get up, and live a life that makes a difference in the world. Some choose to do that by creating, discovering new things, finding cures for illness. Some choose to do that by loving their neighbour, by caring, by saying hi to a person in the street even if they dont know them. Some choose to do that by giving their lives to save someone else. And sadly, some choose for all sorts of different reasons to commit atrocities.
If God did not give us the freedom to make our own choices, he would be no better than any other dictator telling us how we have to live, what we have to do, what we are not allowed to do. But thats not the God that I believe in.
The God I know is the God we read about in Psalm 121. He is the God who invites us to come to him for help. He is the God who has made heaven and earth, and the God understands what it is like to lose someone that he loves to tragic circumstances. He lost his son Jesus upon the cross.
The second reading that we have heard reminds us also that no matter what gets sent our way, whether it be persecution, affliction, even death, the message of the hope and reconciliation found in Jesus can never be taken away. The light of our Lord Jesus Christ will shine brighter than any darkness the world can spread.
In one of his other letters, Paul asks, Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God is Christ Jesus our Lord.
If there is a message that the church can share in our present circumstances, it is that. It is that no matter what we face in life, evil can never win. It is a fact of life that evil exists, but I want to tell you that so does God, and he is here with us now, and walks with us in the days ahead and for the rest of our lives if we will let him.