Very Rev Bob Wilkes
Oxford City Rector

I ALWAYS say...” are words which have my heart sinking in a conversation round the table or at the pub.

They prelude, it seems, yet another expression of a cherished but ill thought-out prejudice.

So I always say: never say “I always say”. There you see it: my prejudice.

Having “the last word” can help. Struggling with a puzzling problem, we long for a resolution.

To close down the struggle in a conversation, we reach for the comfort of the last word, even if we make one up on the spot.

Last Monday, I sat as usual as City Rector in a meeting of Oxford City Council. Many words were spoken about important matters.

Among the unresolved dilemmas and the realities of party politics, there was a genuinely conscientious effort to do the “possible good”, as politics has been described.

The Lord Mayor got the “last word”, for which we were grateful, when, after nearly five hours, he declared the meeting over.

However there is a tragic dimension to this matter, as we know too well.

In today’s world, there are groups who do not hesitate in their conviction that they are given the “last word”, and, what is more, that they are given the mission to destroy everyone else who is not given the last word.

It is heart-breaking for people of religious faith – and I am one – that many such groups claim the authority of one faith or another as their justification.

It is not my place here to add to the many words written and spoken in the media about the recent acts of appalling violence.

However, I am pleased to be able to witness the trusting friendships among faith leaders in this city.

These friendships are built up steadily in ordinary, regular ways, so that, when a crisis hits, we know how to talk and reflect with each other.

It is vital to keep relationships open as much as we can. We can all bring to mind relationships which have become frozen.

We may think of relationships in which we are involved ourselves, or of relationships we know about in the lives of people dear to us.

Somehow, the “last word” gets spoken: “That’s it. I have tried all I can. No more.”

At the root of it all there may be hurt, grudge, jealousy, or – let us be honest – prejudice.

Now I know we are often called to live with brokenness, including broken relationships.

Yet it is also good to find every which way to keep some window open, to give the chance of mending what is broken, maybe after some time.

This requires us to be honest about our own brokenness, and to be ready to hear the “last word” from one who is greater than us.

Christians are keeping the four weeks of Advent at the moment. The word means “coming”.

Yes, we do get ready for Christmas, but there is a meaning more profound than we might think.

The Christmas message we get ready for is “God is with us”. This is real life, not a play or a sentimental tableau.

We hold two things together: God has already shown he is with us, a belief which, for Christians, centres on Jesus; and God will be with us in bringing his just and gentle rule to fulfilment.

Or I could put it like this: we wait for the “last word” to come, so we live now in hope and openness.

So this article ends. Is it the “last word”?

Of course not. Let’s keep listening.