How do you put into words what people here have experienced, the story of the past few days?
First there was Shock. As we woke up on Wednesday morning, there was that numb feeling, incredulity that something like this could happen in our modern, C21st sophisticated city. Looking up at the Tower and imagining what the people in there was going through was almost unbearable and so hard to even imagine how awful that must be.
Then there was Compassion. Alongside the tragedy, one of the remarkable things has been to see the amazing outpouring of compassion in this community over the past couple of days. It is as if that deep, God-given humanity in all of us has suddenly arisen to the surface and displayed itself in all its wonder and glory. Despite how diverse this community is, it has been remarkable to see that sense that underneath our differences of language, faith, colour, beliefs, there is this deep human instinct of compassion that we all share - wouldn't it be something if London was like this all the time?
Then there has been Grief. Yesterday I spent time with a family whose five-year-old son was missing and then heard the cries of grief as they heard the news that he would not be returning to them. This deep sadness and sorrow will be felt by many families over the coming weeks and months. We grieve with them and need to do all we can to support such families over the coming times strengthened by the knowledge that God does not stand apart, but grieves with them; that he is no stranger to sorrow and that as Jesus weeps with those who weep, so God our Creator grieves with those who are full of heartbreaking sorrow today.
There has also been Pride. I have been privileged to spend time with some of the emergency services over the past few days, listening to the stories of firefighters going in and out of the building with no thought of their own safety to witness the astonishing bravery and courage of those who had to take on this dreadful task. We should rightly be proud we have such people in our midst, and do all we can to thank them for the selfless and heroic way in which they do this work on our behalf. They carry a burden of the memories of the things they have done and seen, so they should be in our prayers too as they come to terms with these past few days.
Then there is Anger. Many people over the last couple of days have expressed a deep anger that anything like this could have happened. There are serious questions to be asked about housing in this area and how we care for and provide for those who are the weakest and most vulnerable in our society. It is too early to allocate blame and to point fingers, but these questions need answers and we need to channel that anger into a patient determination to support those who are seeking to discover the cause of this tragedy, and to ensure it never happens again. Today we cry out for justice and real lasting change.
But now we need Hope. While we go through all these emotions, we also need a new sense of hope there is a future, that lives can be rebuilt, that this community can be restored, a hope for a better future where everyone, regardless of ethnicity, religion, income and background is able to live in safety and security - they deserve no less than this. Hope is what we deal in as Christians. It is perhaps one thing we can offer, because we know that beyond the cross there is Resurrection.
In the past couple of days I have often been asked what can you say to those who have lost everything, who have lost dearly loved ones. My answer? There is very little you can say. There are times when all you can do is pray - and I and many of my clergy colleagues have done that with many over these past days. Prayer reminds us there is God who weeps with those who weep, who hears the cries of the poor and disadvantaged, and while there are many things that happen in God’s world that are not part of his will, in the end, his purposes will one day be fulfilled. We believe in the God of Resurrection, the God of hope. And today this is what we need - Hope that does not eliminate our shock, our compassion, our pride, our anger, but transcends it, lifts it and makes a future possible.
Our thoughts, our prayers, hearts today are with those who have lost everything, with those who are grieving, those wondering where they will be living in the next few weeks. As we watch this compassion break out around us, as we experience it arising in our own hearts, we need to hold onto this hope that will make this compassion not just a fleeting reaction that fades as the media focus moves onto something else, but a settled, long-term characteristic of our great city.
Now as we face the future, we need, faith and hope that will make our love for each other grow stronger. To rebuild not just tower block, but hearts and minds towards a city that truly cares for each other and where all can find a welcome, a future and a hope.