As Lent comes to a close and Easter approaches I have been thinking about the Garden of Gethsemane. After the Last Supper, in full knowledge of what is to come, Jesus goes to the garden to pray. It is an instinct we all understand, deep down. Seeking out silence so that we can prepare ourselves for what is to come.
It is in the garden that Jesus was arrested - a squad of Roman soldiers under the direction of a servant to the High Priest. As they attempted to arrest Jesus his friend and disciple, Simon Peter, leapt to his defence and cut off the servant’s ear with his sword. But Jesus did not use this as a chance to escape or to retaliate against his abusers himself. Instead he admonished Simon Peter, saying "Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?". He healed the servant and left a willing prisoner.
This story matters because it is about human beings. Yes, Jesus is - to some - also divine. But his humanity is on display throughout the Easter story. As he pleads with his Father to spare him from execution. As he acknowledges the devastating reality of betrayal. As he, later, beseeched his friends to care for the mother he was leaving behind. Jesus is a human-being, with human fears and frailty, and it is a human act of extraordinary strength and generosity to choose not to hit back or hit out at those who are persecuting him.
We see that spirit in the best of humanity around us. We see it in particular in our faith leaders - from all faiths - when they are faced with terrible darkness. We see it in the rabbis and the priests who offered their spiritual spaces to Muslim worshippers after the Christchurch attack. We saw it in the Muslim community in Pittsburgh, which united in solidarity and support for the victims of the synagogue shooting there. We see it in the unity and resolve of our faith leaders - across all communities - in pledging their help to rebuild the Notre Dame after this week’s terrible fire.
We see it less often, sadly, in our politics. The model that Jesus set - of unequivocal devotion to truth, coupled with a revulsion of malice and violence - sometimes feels out of reach. Particularly today, at this moment of real and dangerous national division. I often worry that we are losing the ability to disagree on good terms, to recognise that our common humanity far outweighs our partisan differences, to forgive one another those differences.
Today, this Good Friday, we woke to the awful news of the terrorist murder of Lyra McKee, a brave young investigative journalist from Northern Ireland. An innocent life taken by those who bring division and hate. At times such as this it is impossible not to think of my fallen friend and colleague Jo Cox, whose message that "We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us" feels so acute and urgent today. It is not enough for us to remember Jo. We have to live up to these words in our own deeds.
That is why I am planning, after Easter, to meet with faith leaders from all of our communities to ask them for their help. This country has a terrific track record of interfaith dialogue and cross-community working. I want to learn from the faith leaders at the forefront of this work what we can do to bring our politics back together - to allow us to disagree honestly but in earnest love and solidarity for one another. I want to know where I should visit and who I should speak to so I am asking you to nominate a pioneering project, leader or initiative that I should go and see.
This weekend, whether marking Easter or Passover or simply taking a break, enjoy the time off and cherish your families. Spare some time for thoughts or prayers for Lyra McKee and her loved ones whilst we recommit to the pursuit of peace. And when your uncle and auntie start rowing with each other and with you - about Brexit, about the EU elections, about everything and nothing - breathe deeply, think of what unites you, stick to your truth but do so without malice. In our homes, in our politics, on social media and in all of our interactions we can all stand to learn from the garden of Gethsemane
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