Terror. Death. Grief. Pain. Anguish. Fear.
These are the words which appeared on my social media feed and the news two days ago. I live in Manchester, UK and our city was attacked late Monday night by a suicide bomber. Almost 2 dozen people, many of whom were children, lost their lives, and many more are still in hospital fighting for theirs. Yesterday was a day of grief, pain, and deep sadness.
As I opened my social media apps yesterday, another word appeared: Aldersgate. In the midst of tragedy, I see a word which sends my mind racing.
Yesterday, people around the world recognized a significant moment in the life of John Wesley. Nearly 300 years ago on that day, a young John Wesley, ‘went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street’. For months he had been struggling with faith and doubt, grace and works, and he had been praying for God to bring him a sense of assurance of faith. In this meeting a passage from Martin Luther’s Preface to Romans was being read. Luther, too, struggled with faith and fear. As a young monk, he longed to have an assurance of the state of his soul. As he began to study the letters to the Romans and Galatians, he became convinced of the fact that assurance comes through faith alone and faith is a gift of God, made available through the righteousness of Christ.
As Wesley was hearing Luther explain the depths of love being expressed in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he recorded later in his Journal, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” This was a pivotal moment in the life of Wesley, one which many see as a catalyst for what would become of his life: the leader of a worldwide movement in the Church.
So, I am thinking today about Aldersgate and I am still grieving of what happened in my city on Monday and I wonder, what does it mean to have a ‘heart strangely warmed’ in the midst of tragedy?
On a day like yesterday, hearts in Manchester could easily feel cold and sad. People affected could have hearts of hostility and anger. The hearts of those in the emergency services could be simply weary and tired.
But this is not what I saw in the town square yesterday. Thousands of Mancunians gathered together to speak hope over the city, to pray for the city, and to show their love for the city. I have heard story after story of ordinary people caring for the injured, giving rides to those who were stranded, and offering hospitality to strangers. I saw church building after church building with doors opened wide, welcoming anyone who wanted to pray, speak with someone, or simply find a place of quiet to reflect.
This week, in many ways, I saw a city with a “heart strangely warmed.” This may seem an odd phrase to use to describe the atmosphere, as not all of those people at the town hall were Christians and not all of those willing to help would claim faith in Christ. But as I reflect on Aldersgate and as I observe the response of a city in which Wesley preached many times, I wonder if the Spirit of God may be moving over our city, gently warming the hearts of this great place, offering the gifts of faith, hope, and love.
Please continue to pray for the people of Manchester.