Sermon preached on the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (9 October) by the Reverend Canon Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor
There is an urgency in our gospel reading – don’t wait, don’t leave it too late…until all is barred and locked up for the night – it will be no use then standing outside, knocking and claiming all kinds of familiarity with the householder.
The time is now.
About 80 years ago – on 4th October 1936 not far from here in London’s East End– in what has become known as ‘The Battle of Cable Street’ thousands of people came together, realising that the time was at hand –they had to act.
It was 1936 and Hitler’s Nazis were gathering strength across Europe. In Spain the civil war between Republicans and Franco’s Nationalists-aided by Hitler and Mussolini- had just begun. Here in the UK Sir Oswald Mosley’s black-shirted British Union of Fascists was seeking to stir up anti-Jewish hatred among working class Londoners.
In 1936 the population around Cable Street was more than 50% Jewish and Mosley announced that his anti-Jewish forces would march through the East End of London.
And what happened next has gone down in the history of the East End and far beyond.
Bill Fishman was there that day:
‘We all charged towards Cable Street. At the bottom end an overturned lorry was used as a barricade and we blocked the road – Hasidic Jews with little beards and great strapping Irish dockers, all standing together’.
The crowds shouted the slogan ‘They shall not pass’.
In our reading from Isaiah the words of a servant of the Lord pour out:
‘The Lord helps me…therefore I have set my face like flint…he who vindicates me is near… who will contend with me? Let us stand up together.’
In Cable Street, despite the best efforts of the police to clear a path for the procession, the people stood resolute. Left with little other choice Mosley conceded defeat and disbanded his followers.
Today at 12 noon a march will wend its way through the East End of London once again. It will end in Cable Street marking this 80th anniversary when ordinary people took a stand against hate. It will end at Cable Street but it will begin at a local park named after Altab Ali. Ali was a Bangladeshi man who in 1978 was set upon and murdered in racist attack in gardens attached to St Mary’s Churchyard in Whitechapel.
Yesterday, a candle was lit here in this Cathedral at a gathering to mark the Beginning of Hate Crime Awareness Week, remembering all victims of Hate crimes and especially the 49 people whose lives were stolen in the shooting at the Pulse Night Club, Orlando.
80 years on from the events of Cable Street the issues faced that day have not gone away. Racism and other forms of hatred would still seek to have their way.
Many of us today, as we hear the words of Isaiah:
‘I gave my back to those who struck me…I did not hide my face from insult and spitting’
will be taken to a vision of the Man of Sorrows whose name we bear if we call ourselves Christians.
The man who beaten and bruised walked a winding way to another battle against the powers of evil and hatred, determined, unrelenting.
‘The Lord helps me, therefore I have not been disgraced...therefore I have set my face like flint’ says the servant in Isaiah. And so Jesus walked towards the cross, bloodied.
And we? Dare we accompany him?
Each time we stand against hatred and choose hope; each time we walk with those who are victims of hate?
Or do we leave him to walk alone?
Let the final words go to Willie Myers who was in Cable Street 80 years ago, then a young Jewish boy of 15. Speaking recently he said:
‘I remember the day so vividly. Even today, if I had to do it all over again I would. We haven’t learned the lessons of the past. Prejudice is still directed against Jews, but it’s even worse towards Muslims. When I hear of Muslims or Polish people being attacked today, I feel angry. I cannot fathom out why we can’t see each other as human beings. If we are cut, we all bleed the same.’
Let us pray:
Compassionate and resolute God, we understand that we are called to struggle not merely against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities – those institutions and systems that keep hatred alive.
Create in us a new mind and heart. Rid us of the fear and the stereotypes which keep us, your children apart.
Help us to create a Church and a community that embraces the hopes and fears of the oppressed and all victims of hate.
Heal your family God, and make us one with you, in union with our brother Jesus.