“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me”
These words from Psalm 23 have been in my mind this week following the atrocities in Orlando and the terrible murder of Jo Cox yesterday.
I’ve been in Parliament for my final week of duty there as the Bishop of Sheffield. It’s been a sombre week. The House of Lords kept a minute’s silence on Monday afternoon before prayers for the victims of the Orlando shootings. On Monday evening I walked through Soho on the way to meet my son. I was moved by the powerful display of solidarity by the LGBTI community there and across the world.
On Tuesday morning I attended the National Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast in Westminster Hall with around 750 guests including 150 members of both Houses of Parliament. Again we kept silence and prayed for the victims of Orlando. The address by Bishop Angelaos of the Coptic Church was on the suffering of Christians throughout the Middle East.
On Wednesday I took part in a debate in the House of Lords on the European Union’s response to the global migration crisis and particularly, the role of Operation Sophia, the mission to disrupt people smuggling from North Africa to the coast of Italy. There were powerful and compassionate speeches but, of course, no easy answers.
So it had already been a week of difficult news by Thursday when I heard first that Jo Cox MP had been attacked in Birstall and then, when I arrived home, that she had died from her injuries. There has been a public outpouring of prayers and vigils for Jo and for her family and friends.
The tributes have been very moving and Jo will clearly be greatly missed. We do not yet know or understand the reason for the murder. It is hardest to bear for her family of course, but hard as well for all Members of Parliament on every side of the House of Commons. As has been said, the ordinary work of MP’s in meeting their constituents every week is seldom newsworthy but it is the very core of our democracy and a vital part of British life. I join with those who have called for appreciation and thanks to be extended to those who represent us.
This has been a week for reflection on a series of tragedies. In each of these, and all the others, I draw comfort from the words of Psalm 23:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me”.
God is with us even in the depths and the darkest places and God is with those who suffer, in part through all of us extending our love and care and support to those who are hurting most.
We remember God’s love and we pray for those who mourn, for the injured, for the persecuted, for those in danger on land and sea.
But we must also be stirred by these events to engage afresh with the great challenges of our age: to work towards a world which is safe, secure and just for all peoples irrespective of sexual orientation or faith or ethnicity or the place in the world where you are born.
I am struck again at the end of this week by one of the prayers from the funeral service. In the face of such suffering it is vital for all of us to live our lives with purpose and with meaning:
Grant us Lord, the wisdom and the grace to use aright the time that is left to us here on earth. Lead us to repent of our sins, the evil we have done and the good we have not done; and strengthen us to follow the steps of your Son in the way that leads to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.