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The Miners' Strike
When Frances and I returned from our five years in the United States, Margaret Thatcher was in power taking on, well practically everybody actually, but just then it was the miners and Arthur Scargill. I remember picking up a copy of the Times and seeing a quite shocking picture of the funeral of a miner. The minister and the graveside were surrounded by angry men and women bearing placards saying “black leg” and “scab” and other unfriendly things. It was only when I read the tiny caption that I understood that this Welsh pit man who had died was more than eighty years old. The strike referred to by the demonstrators was not the current dispute but the great strike of the late nineteen twenties! Somehow the divisions and family hatreds of sixty years previously had not been forgotten and certainly not been forgiven.
Paul asked of the people at Corinth, “So long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving according to human inclinations?” Well yes you see it is human. There is something dark, almost subterranean and primeval about being angry. We have phrases such as “in the heat of the moment”, in a “blind rage” and our newspapers have many examples of terrible things done in such passions. Our television dramas rely on these emotions to propel their plots of murder and intrigue. Perhaps though it is the simmering resentments that are the most dangerous for they can suddenly erupt unleashing pent up forces. We see this in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, Burma and Russia. Closer to home, we have safely come through a nervous couple of weeks. The EDL demonstration caused real anxiety in Luton, especially in certain communities, but a week before that event, the Luton clergy and the leaders of other faiths, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu, gathered to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of “Luton in Harmony.” There was a slightly carnival feeling in George Square that Saturday afternoon. Perhaps because I was wearing my cassock and so was instantly recognisable as a priest, I found there were many young people of all backgrounds and ethnicity trying to tie purple ribbons to my wrists to symbolize fellowship and unity. A unity not of belief but a unity in demonstrating that we could all get on together, live together, respect one another and are not angry.
Jesus said “I say to you, if you are angry with a brother or a sister you will be liable to judgement, and if you insult a brother or a sister you will be liable to the counsel and if you say “You Fool” you will be liable to the hell of fire.” Notice, he says you will be liable to all these things but as a loving and forgiving God, knowing that we are human, he tells us what to do to put it right:
“So, when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you leave your gift there before the altar and go first to be reconciled to your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.”
Here is the Gospel imperative for the saying of Peace in our communion service. Communion is simultaneously an intimate act, a personal meeting with God and a sharing with the whole community. Before we can meet with God, we first have to be reconciled to one another. This is why in our service, just as Matthew records in his Gospel, the Peace comes immediately before we present our gifts. We need to think, when we come to that moment, of those misunderstandings we may have had with our neighbours, our families our friends or our fellow churchgoers and bring them to God in a sprit of forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation and then we may approach the Communion Rail, God’s Table, pursuing all that makes for peace and all that builds up our common life.