Sermon given at a Service of Remembrance to mark the 25th anniversary of the Lockerbie air disaster
21 December 2013 at 18:00 pm
The Reverend John Mosey, UK Families Flight 103
We have gathered here with the specific purpose of remembering those who we have lost. But as we remember them there is always another “remembering” lurking not far away: the remembering of the way in which they were snatched mercilessly from us. It is what we do with this remembering that I want to think about for a few minutes. I go back to my final words in this place at the tenth anniversary.
“Five days after ‘Lockerbie’, I sat in my daughter’s bedroom. I suppose that I was looking for a foundation on which to build my strategy for dealing with this deep wound I had received. I was drawn to the words which the Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome suffering under the Emperor Nero, ‘Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by doing good’.”
I was born in Coventry as the Nazi bombs were raining down on the city. Whilst studying at the Lanchester College of Art and Technology I often ate my lunchtime sandwiches in the nearby ruins of the old cathedral. Soon after the blitz they had taken two of the charred beams from the rubble and fastened them in the form of a cross on the east wall placing beneath them the words, “Father, forgive”. Little did I think then that there would come a time in my life when I was going to have to give a great deal of thought to this subject of “Forgiveness”; what it is and what it is not.
Whatever our definition of “forgiveness” it is clear from reading the Bible, and the teachings of Jesus in particular, that forgiveness and reconciliation are a huge part of God’s agenda. The ”Sermon on the Mount” is acclaimed widely, even by those of other or no religious persuasions as being one of the very finest codes for living. In it Jesus, directly after giving us the “Lord’s Prayer” containing “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”, gave it double emphasis and made it a condition for God’s forgiveness. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” For any who call themselves “Christian” un-forgiveness is not an option. George Herbert, the seventeenth-century poet and theologian put it well, “He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass”.
In my boyhood I had a friend who went into hospital with appendicitis. After the operation he came home but a few days later had to return to the hospital with an infection in the wound. He died shortly afterwards, not of the appendicitis but because of the secondary infection. The damage we inflict on ourselves by harbouring anger and bitterness can be far more serious than the initial wound.
How we deal with this second “remembering” is crucial. I have seen lives destroyed, not by the cruel events of life, but by the anger and bitterness (often justified) that they have allowed and even encouraged to fill their thoughts. I return to St Paul’s words, “Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by doing good”. Our anger and bitterness only hurt us. The objects of our anger, if they are aware of it, usually couldn’t care less: it even adds interest to their investment.
The recently departed president Nelson Mandela once said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison.”
Forgiveness does not mean we are soft on crime. If you beat me up outside and steal my wallet I will forgive you - but I won’t stop the policeman from arresting you. Forgiveness is a very personal thing but the Bible clearly teaches that the law is God’s protection for society. The law, civic or international (such as it is) must, within the limits of its remit, pursue and prosecute but if it becomes vengeful or vindictive it is out of order.
Our people were murdered in revenge for an act of Western aggression which was, in turn, an act of revenge. It is by doing something to try to break the vicious circle of hatred and aggression that we become winners.
On that fifth morning after her murder I sat in our daughter’s room remembering the previous evening’s news that it was a bomb that had destroyed PA 103. I recalled the cries for revenge and thought, “If I want someone dead because my child is dead I become no better than the terrorists: I bring myself right down to their level”. The words of Gandhi came to mind. “‘An eye for an eye’, and the world will soon be blind”. We could not have a better example than that of Nelson Mandela’s apparent total lack of vengefulness and his reaching out for reconciliation.
We remember those we lost with love, sorrow and pain but it is what we do with this other “remembering” that can affect, not only our personal lives but the wider world we live in.
So, “we will remember them” and remember those who did this dreadful deed and those who have assiduously sought to hide the truth from us. We have witnessed the death of honour, truth and justice and so the death of trust. Evil and injustice must be bravely confronted and every effort made to expose the truth but we must pursue our quest without malice or desire for revenge.
The Christmas message of the Gospel, symbolised by the incarnation and the cross, is reconciliation. “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself”. Let us seek, at least on a personal level, to break the never ending cycle of aggression. “Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by doing good”.