Charter Service 2023
Preached by Bishop Stephen at the annual Charter service in St Thomas’, Salisbury on Sunday 5 March 2023
What’s in a name? We each have one, unique to us and part of our story. As our first reading said; ‘For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever.’ (Micah 4.5)
The incident here in Salisbury five years ago, yards from here, was given a name: The Salisbury Incident. Uncertainty at the time and understandable attempts not to bring fear into our people or to pre-judge the cause gave this horror its own name. Incidents happen all the time, everywhere, and here, but the Salisbury Incident was very particular. It had another, less spoken name: the Novichock attack by a hostile nation. Let’s not beat about the bush anymore. This obscene attack, not just on Salisbury and its victims, but upon the rule of law and free society, was an act of evil.
Another name is now in our vocabulary: The Special Military Operation - also known as the invasion of Ukraine. These two happenings, perpetrated by the same evil, are linked by more than just a different name to mask their reality and intent. They both have another, more accurate name: Evil.
Evil is the deliberate act of humanity against humanity. It is guilt verses innocence. It is sin personified. The incident here in our city was an act of evil. The lovely Ukrainians who now live among us are victims of evil, and we stand with them.
Standing up to evil is the task of us all. We pray for the Ukrainian people today. And also today, we give thanks for those who saved this city from harm. You are here today and we bless you for blessing us. Thank you.
There is only one thing to do in the face of evil. Stand up to it. That is what Salisbury did, and what Ukraine is doing. But there is more. To stand up with defence is natural, and morally justified. But the only way ultimately to defeat evil, is with its antidote – love. This is what Jesus is pointing us to in the reading from St Matthew. (Matthew 5.43-48) This is not the wishy-washy love of acquiescence, but the costly love of the cross. Any of us can love our neighbours, Jesus says, but the only way to change our enemies is to love them so that they beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Weapons into tools to make things grow. This demands sacrifice and God knows what this feels like. God himself died for our sins on the cross, the sacrifice we shall mark on Good Friday: good out of evil. The murder of God becomes the living hope of his people. The faith for which this place stands, and which our cathedral city proclaims perhaps better than other like it, is in a God who knows what it is to be us, to be human, to suffer and to die, and to give us in death what we cannot give ourselves.
This is love conquering death. This is love beating down evil. This is the only way: to seek to be perfect, as our heavenly Father is perfect. Love is the antidote of evil.
We will fail in this, but Salisbury has a Charter with its community and we will keep striving to be the best we can be, different and unique as we are: loved. Evil will cost us, but it does not have the power of love.
God is love, and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them. (1 John 4.16)