I have long been inspired by Provost Howard’s public prayer after the bombing of Coventry Cathedral in 1940, FATHER FORGIVE.
Of course this resonates with the original words of Jesus from the cross,
“Father forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”
And also with the subsequent prayer of St Stephen for those stoning him to death,
“Lord do not hold this sin against them.”
Witnesses laid their coats at the feet of Saul. It is probable that Stephen’s prayer influenced his conversion on the Damascus road taking the new name of Paul. The enemy of Christians had become a friend.
However, Jesus had not waited to become a victim so that he could put into action the forgiveness that he taught. Knowing God’s plan to reconcile the world to himself, Jesus took up the way of the cross. This was his initiative: life laid down, proactive love in searching for lost sheep, and drawing all people to himself.
At Pentecost, when the pilgrims heard that God had raised Jesus whom they had crucified, they asked Peter what they should do. Peter told them to repent and be baptised in the name of Jesus. About three thousand made the change of heart. God was reconciling to himself those complicit in Jesus’ crucifixion.
Jesus’ call for his disciples to take up the cross was more than call to endure suffering: it was a call to intervene in society as he had done amongst the sick and outcast; religious and political authorities; and pilgrim crowds. For dialogue and reconciliation to begin disciples must be ready to go the extra mile, love the enemy and do good to those who hate.
I offer an example from Kaduna in Nigeria where Pastor James used to lead a Christian militia, and Imam Nurayn led a Muslim militia. A wise Imam reminded Nurayn that Muhammed, when attacked, had prayed “ My Lord forgive your people for they do not know what they are doing.” This led Nurayn to visit in hospital the mother of Pastor James. This was the beginning of their reconciliation, and has borne fruit in programmes of Christian-Muslim Inter Faith Mediation.
I write this as one of the Counsellors of the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, aware of our links with Coventry through Paul Oestreicher, Lucy Barbour and others. I enjoyed being with our Chair Sue Claydon at the Cathedral on April 8th for the blessing of our Cross, as a new partner of the Community of the Cross of Nails, and we look forward to the presentation of the cross at our Conference in Leeds on April 21st, and future partnership in prayer and action.
The Rev’d Donald Reece retired after 44 years of parish ministry in 2004, and now lives in Oxford. He joined APF in 1956.