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09 March 2018

The spy who went to Salisbury

The spy who went to Salisbury

Danny Webster is advocacy and media manager at the Evangelical Alliance.

It's like something from a John Le Carre novel. Sergei Skripal was a Russian spy who moved to Salisbury in 2010 after a spy exchange in Vienna when he and three other Russians in jail for spying were exchanged for 10 sleeper agents the FBI had caught in the United States. He had been convicted in 2006 of passing secrets to MI6. 

He lived a quiet life in the small Wiltshire city, was known to local shopkeepers, had joined a railway social club and liked to buy handfuls of lottery scratch cards at a time. On Sunday he went to the Italian restaurant Zizzi, had a drink at Bishop’s Mill pub, and then he and his daughter were found unconscious on a bench that afternoon. 

Sergei and his daughter Yulia are both in a critical condition and police suspect he was poisoned using a rare nerve agent. A police officer who was first at the scene is also in hospital. 

If not a scene from a spy novel, at least from the Cold War days. The story of a spy swap, a retired spy trying to carve out a new life in the peace and quiet, the unassuming surroundings of a possible attempted murder. It calls to our attention that maybe we don’t live in the apparent peace we take for granted. 

Sometimes something happens that reminds us of a reality we live in the shadow of but don’t acknowledge or allow to affect our daily lives. Geopolitics and national security come to the forefront when a spy is possibly poisoned in a pub we drink at or a restaurant we eat at. Or when a concert attended by our children is bombed and 23 people lose their lives. 

In the run up to Easter, roughly halfway through Lent, we have a chance to reflect on the unexpected arrival of a king Jesus, the king whose only crown was a ring of thorns and who, unlike the war kings of his era, did not ride a horse but a donkey. Zechariah 9:says: “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 

Some of Jesus’ contemporaries were ready for revolution, they wanted a leader who would rise up against the Roman authorities and give them the freedom they wanted. But Jesus confounded their expectations, as the crowds threw down their palm leaves when he entered Jerusalem he didn’t raise a sword but stooped to wash his disciples’ feet in private. Earlier in Jesus’ ministry Nathanael had asked: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” This wasn’t the expected home of a world changing leader, the Messiah. 

Our world is full of the mix of the ordinary and the extra ordinary, the scratch cards and the spies, the pizzeria and the poison. The day to day and the miraculous. Things we overlook every day and those which suddenly grab our attention. 

The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus is an extraordinary story following from very ordinary begnningsIt’s a story which calls us to pay attention to the ordinary not only to pay attention to what happened 2,000 years ago but what happens today. 

Are we listening to incredible stories of people finding Jesus, in our neighbourhoods and in parts of the world where the gospel cannot be freely preached?  

Are we seeing God break chains of injustice and bonds of slavery, in personal situations and across societies?  

Do we know the healing that Jesus brings to our hearts, our souls, our minds and our bodies? 

Let's lift our heads and see that not only did an unexpected king turn the ordinary into the extraordinary as he defeated death on the cross but is still king of this world today, still making ordinary stories extraordinary. 

Image: CC0 License