Alison and I paid a visit to see the knife angel outside Derby Cathedral last Saturday. It was our second visit, but as the first had been in daylight we chose to visit on the evening and it was even more inspiring. It leaves Derby tomorrow for Chester so if any of my friends are within reach of Chester I want to encourage you to visit it.
As many will be aware the back-story to the angel is a response to the rising statistics of knife related crime within the country and in memory of those who have lost their lives to knives. The sculpture is 27 feet high and made from about 100,000 bladed weapons collected in knife amnesties across the country. Made by sculptor Alfie Bradley the angel was created to bring to a head the needless loss of life, or serious injury that knife related crime costs.
As we stood looking at the sculpture and reflecting on it, I became aware of a group of girls to my right who were obviously out night clubbing. They had stopped to take their own photographs, and climbing onto a nearby wall to be able to photograph over the security barrier. I became aware of them by the loud chatter, the laughter and the noise level. I can’t deny that, although I didn’t tut-tut, I was inwardly thinking “pay some respect, do you realise what this is about; be as overawed as I am……….”
On my way home I thought about it, knowing which passage I was preaching on the following day, from Luke 18:9-14. “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
I began wondering if I was like the Pharisee, looking down my nose on others who did things differently to me. Instead of giving thanks that the girls had taken some time out of their night clubbing to stop and see the angel (unlike others who walked past without regard), was I being judgemental in being disappointed they had reacted differently to me?
Was I any better than the Pharisee, and what right did I have in making the judgement when I had no concept of the girls own backgrounds; maybe they had known someone involved and wanted to stop; maybe they were afraid of knife crime and wanted reassurance; maybe they were making their own observance in their own way. The problem with the Pharisee in the parable wasn’t that he was in the wrong with his observance, but that his observance was all about himself and his belief that he was doing everything right (wasn’t he good ?). However the tax collector didn’t think of how good he was, but realised his own error and threw himself entirely upon God.
Look at the face of the angel, especially in the first picture (in blue lighting) and it looks so sad despairing and full of sorrow. I truly believe that God is sad and sorrowful when we try to rely on our own actions (which can lead to unfulfilled hopes, or in some cases to estrangement from others) instead of throwing ourselves upon Gods grace and mercy; when we choose our own path rather than the path of tolerance, hope and love which Jesus shows us. Look at the open hands and see in them the hands of God reaching out to lead us in a better way. Grasp those hands for in the pain and suffering of Jesus, the hands that were scarred on our behalf, there IS a better way and it’s the way of Jesus Christ, who spoke of peace and acceptance of all people.
I found and continue to find the knife angel profoundly moving and challenging to my own life and the way I treat others.