Westminster Bridge bookmarks two heritage sites, one – the ‘Mother of all Parliaments’ – and the other, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth Palace. Justin Welby spoke to the House of Lords, on the north bank of the River Thames, the day after the ‘incident’ happened.He declared that a Lambeth Palace official – who happened to be a Muslim- had narrowly avoided being mowed down by Khalid Masood on his way to work. He was one of the first people to come to the aid of those who had not been able to avoid being injured, maimed or killed.
The Archbishop went further, and reflected on another scene, just yards from the bridge where the car’s murderous journey had been terminated. Outside Parliament on Bridge Street, the small theatre of violence was momentarily stilled. We have all viewed the scene by now, a tableau of care in the midst of the carnage. The emergency services – policeman, paramedics, doctors – with all their resource, equipment and skill, attempting to save a life. They battled and fought to keep this man alive with painstaking care. That, despite the awful context, was their vocation. This life was the life that had robbed others of their life just moments ago. This life and death belonged to the assailant, Khalid Masood.
Masood was treated by the very people he had attempted to kill. The Archbishop described his course of action: “The vehicle [was] driven across Westminster Bridge by someone who had a perverted, nihilistic, despairing view of objectives of what life is about, that could only be fulfilled by death and destruction.” His is a story of gratuitous violence and mindlessness, attempting to kill innocence, beauty, freedom and truth. However, in the last moments of his own life, Khalid Masood could not prevent the goodness of God’s mercy from being embodied in those who attempted to save him.
There is something in all of this which is connected to another place of public execution, that of Golgotha. In the midst of the carnage stands the cross, for some the symbol of gratuitous violence, injustice and, ultimately, death. But as the tableau of Christ’s passion is transformed from stillness into life, we realise that the worst that humankind can present to God is turned around, re-formed into something irresistible. From violence to peace, from nihilism to belief, from death to life. Humanity in its senseless plans and actions cannot overcome God by evil; it is not possible. Love will conquer all. So, perhaps when William Wordsworth composed his poem over 200 years ago from this very place of tragedy, was he writing as a poet, a prophet or both?
“Earth has not anything to show more fair:Dull would he be of soul who could pass byA sight so touching in its majesty:This City now doth, like a garment, wearThe beauty of the morning; silent, bare,Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lieOpen unto the fields, and to the sky;All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.Never did sun more beautifully steepIn his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!The river glideth at his own sweet will:Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;And all that mighty heart is lying still!”