I don’t remember too much about High School, but one of the things I do remember is that the English Department in our school managed to invite some of the major Scottish poets of the 20thcentury to visit our year group and give us talks on their poems.
These poets seemed, I remember, each of them to be slightly shy, introverted and diffident men, maybe not the best of communicators to 16/17years old, but what they said and certainly their presence, I remember, even after these many years, to have had a profound impact on me and maybe many others who attended those classes.
One of the most impressive people that came I recall was Edwin Morgan, a Glasgow poet, not long dead. He chose to speak about a poem he wrote in 1963 called King Billy, which sounds to our ears very modern. It’s about Billy Fullerton who was leader of a Bridgeton gang who possessed and used knives in the city of Glasgow in the 1930s.
The poem is set at his funeral on a dark and rainy day in Riddrie cemetery. All his people are there with their flags, their drums and pipes – all these people came from the same hungry and poor background as himself and all of them turned like him to violence, hatred and brutality; a sectarian violence which is well known to us in our city. The poem recalls that violence, the violence of the 1930’s, and their gang warfare was ended by the great Scottish Chief Constable of Glasgow at the time, Percy Sillitioe, who later went on to become the head of MI5. He is credited with breaking up these gangs and making sure that long sentences were handed down to those who were involved in knife crimes.
The poem is a sad poem which regrets violence and wasted lives. The poem ends with a memorable line as the mourners disperse: “Go from the grave. The shrill flutes are silent, the march dispersed. Deplore what is to be deplored and then find out the rest”.
The final lines are an invitation to see that this violence doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from poverty, empty bellies, no hope, no prospects – this violence emerges from dark things and feeds off of them.
The recent knife violence, which we have heard about happening in London and in major cities in England, comes from the same place. From gangs perhaps with different names from ones that are know to us in our city. But it comes from the same kind of people, people who draw invisible lines between communities that cannot be crossed. It is violence that is drug fuelled, alcohol fuelled, poverty fuelled; fuelled by no prospects and no hope. It’s the kind of violence which is not simply grown overnight but which has been festering away for some time, underneath the surface.
Morgan’s final lines are telling – Deplore what is to be deplored and then find out the rest. The knife violence is really only a symptom of something else, some outer manifestation of a problem that had deeper roots, that lies deep down, that tells us that something in people and in society is not working, not functioning and not doing well. It’s maybe the outward manifestation of long years of poor housing, poor prospects, people trapped in poverty – all of these things that eventually erupt onto the surface and end up being played out even in the children of a new generation.
The Second Sunday of Easter sees us looking at the risen Jesus, we are face-to-face with him, as Thomas and the other disciples are. They look at him and we, in a sense, look at him too through their eyes. We see his crucified body but also his risen body. We see he too bears the wounds of a terrible “knife-attack”. His hands and feet are pierced through, in his side is a gaping wound, on his head and body are the wounds of someone who has been badly set upon. His body reminds us of many of those young men who also have been set upon by individuals or often by crowds who appear like a pack of dogs. Jesus’ wounds are real like theirs wounds are real. Jesus’ pain was real, as we know their pain was real. The fact that these wounds contributed to his death is incontrovertible, as their wounds also led to their deaths.
The death of the holiest one reproduces and replays the death of many who die in the most terrible way in the streets of our city. His death is a death for all and in a special way for those who like him are pierced with the knife, run through with the lance, those whose deaths are brutal senseless and are the result of mindless violence.
But the wounds of Jesus are different, his body is different and he is different – he is not the lifeless corpse in the tomb. As Thomas touches these wounds they are different, they are marks were the nails make, they are scars were the lance ran through, but they are transformed. The marks are there but he is healed. The death that came after them is no longer there also. He is transformed and risen.
He has transformed everything in his death - even the evil that is inflicted on him by this attack, by these blows, by these nails, by this lance, by this cross. He transforms everything by the mystery of his love, he casts out the evil, triumphs over it. The knives are sharp and the evil terrible but it doesn’t have the last word, the last word is his love. His love conquers death, his love conquers evil.
There is a terrible cloud that seems to descend when we hear of those stabbings, those wounded and those who lose their lives. We sense the pointlessness of it and the savagery. It is as if people have lost their mind.
This Sunday we are reminded that evil doesn’t have the last word. In the resurrection, the last word is his love. The apostles are rendered speechless by his presence among them. They know that his appearance among them, speaks of love that has triumphed over all evil. He asks them to doubt no longer but to believe.