Just a few short weeks ago, a lone gunman, went into a Methodist Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and gunned down nine people engaged in prayer and bible study. Honestly, it was a heinous act of senseless violence that appalled people across the world. But, it was the response of those who lost loved ones which was so remarkable and powerful. Not hiding from their grief, those African Americans were able to reach out in forgiveness to this disturbed young man. Through their tears, they did something truly divine – something which Jesus Christ modelled – they forgave the one that had so cruelly pierced their souls, saying, just as Jesus did: ‘forgive them Father for they do not know what they are doing’. But, something else happened at the Memorial Service for Rev. Pinckney and the others.
President Barack Obama, leader of the most powerful nation on earth, spoke about ‘grace’. He said in the week leading up to the service, he had been reflecting on the idea of grace – the ‘Amazing Grace’ that is sung about in the well-known hymn. He called it the ‘free and unearned favour of God’; and that ‘we are all recipients of that grace’; he even ended his eulogy by singing the first verse of the hymn. It was a poignant and extraordinary moment. But the truth is we know that he spoke words of real power about what we all can believe; that there is a God who loves us, and who, by grace, calls us all into a relationship with him.
The Revd Bruce Goodwin, Chaplain at the University of Gloucestershire