'God is never absent': Southwark Cathedral preaches peace, reopens after London Bridge terror attack

Southwark Cathedral yesterday reopened its doors for the first time since the London Bridge terror attacks.Reuters

Yesterday London's Southwark Cathedral opened its doors for the first time since the London Bridge terror attacks, just over a week ago, caused it to be shut down.

The dean of the Cathedral, Andrew Nunn, spoke about the 'living nightmare' of the terrorist attacks on the community, but offered a message of solidarity and hope, declaring: 'God was not absent on that Saturday night; God is never absent.'

Southwark Cathedral was closed after the terrorist attacks that killed 8 and seriously injured 48 on the night of June 3. Moments after the attack the Anglican cathedral's doors were broken down by police, and the building had since been closed for forensic investigation.

The cathedral reopened yesterday, with hundreds attending the morning service celebrating Trinity Sunday.

'Saturday night last week was like a living nightmare. It's the kind of experience that only happens to other people, not to you, not on your own doorstep. But it happened to us, it happened on our own doorstep, literally; it happened in our own community that we love and that we've served in Christ's name for over 1400 years,' said Nunn in his address.

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He added: 'Those years have seen their share of war and pestilence and fire but I doubt that ever before has the church been inaccessible to worshippers for a week, inaccessible as the place of peace and contemplation that people expect and need, inaccessible as the place of welcome and embracing, radical hospitality and love that we seek to be. But it happened.'

He described his attempts to help on the night of the attack: 'I went through the back alleys and got as far as Park Street and Neal's Yard Dairy and the Market Porter. But heavily armed police barred my way and forced me back. "Run, run" was all they shouted. I was directed on to Southwark Street and there saw people lying on the pavement being cared for by the emergency services.

'"Run, run" was all I could hear through the sound of sirens and helicopters and I was forced on and on until I got back to the Deanery and shut the door behind me on the living nightmare. 'And now we're here on this Trinity Sunday, back in this sacred place, which is still sacred. The risen body of Jesus bears the marks of the nails and the spear and Jesus shows his hands and his side to his disciples. The Sacristy door shows the marks of the baton rounds fired at it to break open the door and allow the police access. We bear on our body the marks of suffering that so many bear in their flesh and in their soul and spirit.'

The dean spoke about the consolation offered by God in times of crisis: 'In the horror of the moment it's all too easy to imagine that you're on your own, that you're abandoned to the nightmare, lost in the terror, but Jesus says "No; remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age". 'God was not absent on that Saturday night; God is never absent.' Nunn shared about how he had since been invited to attend the local mosque by the Imam there, where he emphasised that 'we do not hold the Muslim community to blame'.

Reflecting on the biblical call to 'Live in peace' he said: 'That is what we have to do. What we share is what God has given, a shared heritage, a shared humanity, not just with the Muslim community but with all people, all men and women, regardless of anything that others might identify as difference. 'Difference does not mean division unless we chose to make it so, and we chose to make difference a blessing and an enrichment to our community which is why we celebrate who you are, who we are, male and female, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight – and I will say that again and again and again from this pulpit until it is deep in all our hearts, to the very core of our being.'

He implored his audience to 'confront evil with love', and said that the 'scars' of the attacks must make the community not bitter, but stronger.

In an address at the Choral Eucharist, the Bishop of Southwark Christopher Chessun condemned the 'hatred that leads to violence', distorting the image of God in human beings.

He added: 'The terror we have seen on our streets has been followed in recent days by many small acts of loving care for neighbour and many expressions of community solidarity. Londoners are determined to show that what has happened, terrible as it is, will not undermine the trust, friendships and goodwill which bind us together and we celebrate our remarkable diversity, especially across different faiths as a rich blessing.'

Reflecting on Trinity Sunday, Nunn spoke about the 'divine dance' at the heart of the Holy Trinity, through which believers share in the gift given by Christ: 'With scarred hands he gives his broken body to us, gives his shed blood to us, and he asks us to eat and drink so that through his death we may have life.

'He is always with us, always, at the altar, in the world, walking through the dangerous places and showing his scarred self to a scarred world and making it, ultimately, beautiful.'

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