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Slavery and Freedom: Address to Worshippers on the Walk of Witness

Saturday 24th March 2007

The Archbishop of Canterbury's address to worshippers at an open air service in Kennington Park. The service marked the conclusion of the Church of England's 'Walk of Witness' - a public act of repentance, restoration and remembrance for the slave trade and the Church's own historic role in it.

The people caught up in running the slave trade were people who, in many ways, may have been decent, responsible people, but they couldn't see, and that's why we've just heard that reading from the gospel that's sometimes called Jesus' manifesto. 'He sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind.' And the release of the captives doesn't happen unless some people open their eyes to see, by God's grace and by the work of some extraordinary human beings 200 years ago people began to see.

It took a long time, an embarrassingly long time, and today if we look forward 200 years, we're bound to be asking 'what will people think as they look back saying why didn't they see it?' Jesus tells us that when the spirit of the Lord comes, those two things happen, release and vision, release and vision. Where he is there is release, and where he is there is vision. He's with us today in this act of worship, as we celebrate one important step in release for the human race and one important moment when vision began to happen.

But today what he is saying to us is 'What are you not seeing? Who is not released today because of your unwillingness to open your eyes?' So you and I have to listen to that, we have to ask ourselves just that question, and because we don't know how to answer it, all we can do is ask that the Holy Spirit will be at work powerfully among all of us today and tomorrow and the day after, so that our eyes shall be opened, so that in our own generation, we may be by Christ's spirit, and Christ's power, agents of release - people committed to freedom.

We've heard already this afternoon something of those evils which for a long time, we haven't seen; the evils of sex trafficking, the evils of forced labour. For a long time it's been possible for many people not to open their eyes to those things, and who knows tomorrow and the day after what it is that God will open our eyes to, but this afternoon that's all we can do. We give thanks that where Christ is there is always vision and there is always release. We ask that his Spirit will move among us today and tomorrow and the day after, and open our eyes. When that happens people can say of us too, today the scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing, and may it be so.

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