Walking humbly and acting justly
A reflection from the Bishop of London, The Rt Revd & Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally
I live with the bells of St Pauls’ cathedral – every 15 minutes. The clock now rings one and a half minutes slow. This is a consequence of COVID-19. Staff have been furloughed and so the daily adjustment needed to keep it running to time has not been able to happen. I am now not sure if I am now 90 seconds late or if I have been given the luxury of an extra 90 seconds.
We have seen many consequences of Covid 19 – not all bad. There are less cars on the road making the air in the city cleaner, I have established a pattern of morning prayer with my family – after 33 years of marriage my husband and I have been in the same place at 8am every morning for three months.
We have seen communities come together and a growing support for the public sector. We have despite many years of having been asked put our church services online in a very short period of time increasing access to worship for those that find getting to church difficult.
But there has also been deep grief and loss. There has been the death of too many people, we have not seen those we love for over 3 months, we have not been able to worship as a community of faith in one place. Covid 19 has also uncovered the inequalities that we knew were there.
16% of the accommodation in London is overcrowded. Brent, Newham and Hackney are three of 10 boroughs across the UK with the highest deaths from Covid 19. We know that Covid 19 has disproportionately affected people from Black, Asian and ethnic ministry groups and in doing so has reminded us of the racial discrimination which is taking the breath from our communities.
All of these consequences are a cause for lament at the tragedy and injustice that so often fill our world. And yet it is always suffused with hope. Jesus tells us that we should not be afraid because there will come a time when all will be uncovered when everything that is presently secret will be known. Justice will be done.
But our call as Christians is not merely to wait for justice, but also to act for it. As restrictions are eased there is a risk that we want to return to normal but do we really want to return to a normal in which we are destroying the planet, one in which sees a black woman more likely to die in childbirth than a white women, one in which footballer Marcus Rashford speaks of where as a child he depended on breakfast clubs, free school meals, and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches. Where nine out of 30 children in any given classroom were living in poverty in the UK.
Tom Wright in his book God and the Pandemic uses Psalm 72 to challenge us as a church to articulate, not just in speech but in practical proposals, what justice looks like:
Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
3 May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
or he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight.
Our God is a God of justice, and so to be a Christian is to live in solidarity with all whom Jesus loves. To be Christian is to witness even in the face of danger. To be Christian is to see each person as worthy of the profound love and respect owed to all the children of God. To be a Christian is to see our part in continuing discrimination and as a stumbling block to another and then remove it.
Jesus predicts that the disciples will be betrayed by those dearest to them and dragged before worldly authorities; he promises that they will be hated by all and forced to flee from town to town as homeless refugees.
And yet, alongside these disturbing images, Jesus promises that God will be with them always – and they need not be afraid.
The Gospels offers us a portrait of discipleship that follows the figure of Christ himself. Not just to talk about justice but to act with justice.
We can’t return to normal.
May God make us hungry for the kingdom of God and give us the joy of being his disciple, and may this freedom and joy be with us, empowering us to witness and act in Christ’s name.