A lament for Nice
Live from St Martin-in-the-Fields with the Revd Dr Sam Wells, responding to the profound sense of shock felt across the world to the apparent terrorist attack in Nice.
Live from St Martin-in-the-Fields with the Revd Dr Sam Wells, and the Revd Katherine Hedderley, responding to the profound sense of shock felt across the world as a result of the apparent terrorist attack in Nice. With the choir of St Martin-in-the-Fields directed by Jeremy Cole.
Producer: Andrew Earis.
Maurice Durufle – Lord’s Prayer (Notre Pere)
Good morning. The wilful mowing-down of a huge crowd of people by a lorry on Bastille Day in Nice has come amid a string of horrifying attacks in Brussels, Baghdad, Paris, Orlando, Birstall and elsewhere, so widespread and so frequent that one almost loses track of which ghastly incident has happened where. Today we want to recognise together that it feels like we are in a daunting season, a time that evokes fear and anxiety and bewilderment. Meanwhile there’s much turbulence in our own political life, with unexpected developments almost by the day, and ‘unknown unknowns’ near and far. Just yesterday there was an attempted coup in Turkey, again leaving many dead. What is going on? And how do we speak of and speak to God in the heat of our confusion and dismay? That’s what we will be exploring together in our worship this morning.
Let us pray. O God our help in ages past, you have been our shelter and you will be our eternal home. Be thou our guardian and our guide as our footsteps falter and by the power of your Spirit walk with all who fear that they do not know where the next shock will come from. In Christ our Lord, our shepherd, and our king. Amen.
After the Orlando night club attacks last month, Anglican priest Ally Barrett sat down and wrote this hymn, O God of all salvation.
O God of all salvation – Ally Barrett (King’s Lynn)
We don’t know where to turn in our anger, grief and dismay. There is only one place to turn. Let us pray.
O LORD, how long?
How long will we hear of those celebrating a national day being ruthlessly slaughtered?
How long will your children dancing and relaxing be blown to high heaven?
How long will Baghdad be a byword for mutilation and hatred?
How long will those in a concert hall be powerless victims of murder and cruelty?
Do you not listen?
Do you not see our sufferings?
Do you not bleed with our blood, cry with our tears, hurt with our pain?
We know you will one day bring justice like a never-failing stream;
We believe you will at the last vindicate the oppressed;
We trust that you will at the end of time raise the downtrodden from the dust.
But why will you not do it now? We need it today, Lord. People are howling in anguish that you may meet them in their sorrow and lift their hearts to a new dawn.
What is happening with these extremists? What possesses them to disgrace their own religion and break the hearts of so many people? Can you not bring them face to face with your mercy and compassion and turn their hearts to the ways of gentleness and the paths of peace?
We are tired, we are weak, we are worn; precious Lord, take our hand,
lead us on, help us stand.
Bless the peacemakers
Bless the ones who forgive the unforgivable
Bless the ones who refuse to return hatred for hatred
Bless us, Lord, who long for your peace.
Gracious God, hear these prayers of your children.
Maurice Durufle – Kyrie (from Requiem)
Our Old Testament lesson is read by the French Ambassador in London, Sylvia Bermann. She begins with a few words on behalf of the French people.
Her Excellency Sylvie Bermann, French Ambassador to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Horror has struck again in France, destroying more than eighty lives, of many nationalities.
The terrorist killed a high number of children. He chose the fourteenth of July, France’s national day, a celebration of liberty, equality and fraternity – values that the extremists reject. He attacked one our most treasured traditions – gathering for the firework and ball on the evening of Bastille day, a habit that brings together Frenchmen and women of all walks of life, a potent symbol of the will to live together that constitutes our nation.
In these difficult circumstances, solidarity matters. It is reassuring that some things do not change: The British are at our side in times of need. Since Thursday, France has received countless testimonies of support, from the Queen and Prime Minister to many private citizens. We are very grateful for those numerous gestures of sympathy. This service is one of them and I am thankful for it. It is especially fitting that it is taking place in St Martin-in-the-Fiekds. St Martin was active and hugely influential in France, so much so that Martin is the most common family name in my country. He is one of the patron saints of France.
He lived at a time when my country saw upheavals and crisis. I am sure he would agree that the French people have the resilience and unity to be stronger than those who have attacked us.
A reading from Psalm 55
Give ear to my prayer, O God;
do not hide yourself from my supplication.
Attend to me, and answer me;
I am troubled in my complaint.
I am distraught by the noise of the enemy,
because of the clamour of the wicked.
For they bring trouble upon me,
and in anger they cherish enmity against me.
My heart is in anguish within me,
the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, ‘O that I had wings like a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest;
truly, I would flee far away;
I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter for myself
from the raging wind and tempest.’
Lead, kindly Light (Sandon)
John Henry Newman’s hymn, Lead, kindly light. Our preacher is the Vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, Sam Wells.
The horror of events in Nice strikes most of us in a place deeper than words, a sense of primal fear at the thought, not just of death, but of sudden, violent, deliberate, crushing and irrational mayhem – a kind of utter chaos, impossible to understand and wholly alien to the rhythm and purpose of our lives.
If we know someone close to the events, or if we’ve experienced anything like it ourselves, the likelihood is we’ll be thrown into the whirlwind of intense emotion, visceral reaction, and fervid anxiety. If we’re watching from afar, we may be drawn into more cerebral engagement – what could make someone do such a thing, how could something like that be stopped, is there anything we can do to help, might such an event happen in my neighbourhood, what is happening to the world?
All of these questions evoke a profound feeling of powerlessness. Over the last two centuries we’ve known a whole series of inventions and discoveries that have led to a greater ability to control and shape the world, and in the last generation a huge leap in communications technology to enable us to be in touch with people almost everywhere. But this senseless violence, this rampage inflicted on happy citizens enjoying their national day – summed up by that harrowing photograph of a child lying in the road as lifeless as the doll in her hand – renders us impotent in comprehending, addressing, responding. Many suspect that military intervention ignited, even unleashed terror in Iraq and Syria; but those who’ve attacked France have done so from within. What do these people want – and how on earth is this ghastly carnage going to help them get it?
Deep in the soul of the Old Testament lies a practice that shapes the reflexes of a people. That practice emerges when two contradictory convictions face off against each other. Conviction one is that God has no character that’s not entirely about justice, mercy, love, and truth. Conviction two is that what you’re experiencing right now is injustice, cruelty, evil and agony. The two realities are in what feels like absolute tension. And the result is what’s called lament. Lament is the practice of prayer that acknowledges the depth and damage of sin, yet looks to God to account for what goes beyond that depth and damage and still weighs down creation in ways that can in no imaginable degree honour the glory of God. Lament comes from a place of deep trust in the faithfulness of God and deep awe at the mystery of humankind, which finds itself dismayed at the deep disgrace of events that surely reflect neither God’s character nor God’s will.
Lament says, ‘How can this be? The world was made to mirror God’s glory. But this is shame and suffering and horror and grief. My head can’t comprehend it, my heart can’t cope with it, my soul can’t sustain it. God, as you have time beyond time, show me how I can go on, how I can live, with you, with myself, this hour, this day, ever again.’
The prophet Habakkuk begins his oracle from a place of lament. It’s the deepest place of honesty, dismay and faith, all wrapped into one. Because it’s about faith, there’s still a strand of hope running through, even amid the depth of woundedness and bewilderment. Habakkuk says, ‘O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me… the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous – therefore judgment comes forth perverted. Look at the nations, and see! Be astonished! Be astounded! For a work is being done in your days that you would not believe if you were told.’
Habakkuk recognises he’s out of his depth. This situation is way beyond his competence, command, or even comprehension. And so he places it squarely in God’s lap.
Lament is a community event. When I lived in North Carolina in a community that frequently lost members to the curse of gun violence, we would gather together on the site of the killing and speak words of lament, bewailing the murder, longing for God to be close, standing in solidarity with the grieving. Sometimes you could still see the blood on the tarmac from where a death had occurred. One person described it in six powerful words: ‘Show up, know nothing, expect healing.’ The prayer was simple. God, who turned the horror of the cross into a gift of hope, by some mystery we cannot currently see and can scarcely even imagine, turn this atrocity into something that speaks of your beauty, your truth, your glory.’ But such a prayer doesn’t expect to be answered instantly. What needs to happen first is for the mourners to know how deeply God understands, shares, and enters into their despair.
One night a woman walked into a church, heavyhearted and full of anger and grief at the sin and suffering of the world. There was a candle stand, and she was just striking a match to add a prayer of her own to those that were burning with fragile hope. She heard a shuffling in the darkness at the back of the church. She walked gently towards it, and the pierced hands and scarred face of the stooped person told her she was looking at Christ himself. Christ answered her mystified stare: ‘Who can bear to see my tears? I can’t show them to the world. The world only wants me for what I can give it. Who can bear to see what love and life cost me?’
And she left that church, and she looked again at the horror of so many tragedies, and resolved to become, through the honesty, dismay and faith of lament, a person who could bear the tears of Christ. Maybe we could do the same.
Cantique de Jean Racine – Gabriel Fauré
The mournful song of grief, Cantique de Jean Racine by Gabriel Fauré, himself born in the south of France. Our prayers include, from the ecumenical Taizé community in Burgundy, France, the chant Dans nos obscurités – ‘Within our darkest night, you kindle the fire that never dies away.’
Let us pray
God of mercy, your Son Jesus wept tears like great drops of blood. Bring comfort to the people of Nice today. Where they are bereaved, send them your grace; where they are injured or in terrible pain, give them companions, doctors, healing; where they are in despair or terror, offer them life, light, time, peace. Bless the French nation; make it one people, with one heart, one soul, one body, one trust, one hope.
Choir: Dans nos obscurités
God of compassion, your Son wept at the graveside of Lazarus, whom he loved. Lead us in the paths of peace. Visit the people of Orlando, Paris, Baghdad, Istanbul, Birstall, Brussels. Bring vision to this country, to its new Prime Minister and cabinet, to the opposition and those debate its leadership. Direct the hearts of all who are confused or angry about how things are and where they are going; show us how to make this country a blessing to all the nations of the world.
Choir: Dans nos obscurités
God of endless love, your Son’s disciples wept at his graveside, and yet beheld his risen glory. Receive those who we name before you in our hearts, who need your help, your wholeness, your healing hand. In all the crises of your world, show us where we each are called to respond, to reach out, to relate, to restore. Make this time of trial a new beginning in your people’s understanding of your ways and your calling. And show us what peace means when violence is so near.
In solidarity with the people of Nice, the Lord’s Prayer is spoken in French.
Notre Père, qui es aux cieux,
Que ton nom soit sanctifié,
Que ton règne vienne,
Que ta volonté soit faite sur la terre comme au ciel.
Donne-nous aujourd'hui notre pain de ce jour.
Pardonne-nous nos offences
Comme nous pardonnons aussi à ceux qui nous ont offensés.
Et ne nous soumets pas à la tentation,
mais délivre-nous du mal,
car c'est à toi qu'appartiennent le règne,
la puissance et la gloire, aux siècles des siècles. Amen.
Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;