The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book, 2022
Author Isabelle Hamley
Publisher SPCK, £10.99
Isabelle Hamley has the highly important, but perhaps unenviable, job of being theological adviser to the Church of England’s House of Bishops. Unsurprisingly, there is thus a lot of very sound theological teaching in her latest book, which should certainly engage – not only bishops and other ministers – but also lay members throughout the church, across all levels of Christian experience and traditions. It is a comprehensive and plain-speaking call for social justice in all its forms, at a time when the world-wide pandemic has created new and disturbing levels of injustice. Embracing Justice deserves a wide audience, and makes an ideal read for Lent for several reasons.
First, it explains with biblical examples from the early chapters of Genesis to the Gospels and the writing of St Paul what justice means to God and therefore why it must be important to Christians. There is particular power in the author’s exposition of the exodus from Egypt, with resonances of liberation theology. And – in a beautiful concluding chapter on Holy Communion – we are reminded of the physical reality, as well as the symbolism, behind the breaking and sharing of bread and drinking wine together. This is summed up in one especially powerful sentence: ‘The simplicity of bread and wine is an antidote to an imagination that justifies giving much to some and little to others, banquets for some and hunger for others.’
Embracing Justice uses powerful narratives and stories – sometimes shocking ones, for example on exploitation and abuse – to move us from complacency to compassion. I was jerked from my own indifference when I read the author’s objective but graphic summary of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, where in the five years between 2013 and 2018, civil war cost 400 000 lives and displaced 2.5 million people, although few headlines were generated in the west. When we look closely at our broken, unequal and violent world, home and abroad, we yearn to do something about the glaring lack of justice.
At the end of each chapter there are questions for discussion and pointers for prayer and reflection, allowing for the book’s use as a powerful Lent-long course with home- or church-based discussion groups. Reading it alone is also salutary and valuable. However it is used, this book has the potential to show how each of us can more fully reflect the justice, mercy and compassion of Jesus Christ in our everyday lives.
Reviewed by ELIZABETH STEPHENSON