A police helicopter crashed into a pub and families had to wait for hours and days to find out if their loved ones had survived. This terrible accident happened as Scotland was celebrating its national holiday, St Andrew's Day, which gave added poignancy to the tragedy and put the whole country into mourning. What was ironic was that, on the first Sunday in Advent, in Christian churches throughout the country and indeed the world, the reading from scripture was about not knowing the day or the hour that death will come and how we can live oblivious to it until it takes us by surprise. And then one will be taken and another left. This is exactly what happened on the eve of St Andrew's Day. No-one was expecting this tragedy which so far seems to have no explanation. Some people escaped while someone else close by was killed. For the survivors this is a mystery - why did they survive and a friend not? What a gift life is! Tragedies teach us how little we are in control of it and how important it is to live it well each day and each moment that comes to us.
These happenings also bring out the best in people. Glaswegians ran to the scene to form a human chain to get people out of the collapsed building and people have been offering condolences in any way they can - bringing flowers to the scene, signing a book of condolences, special prayer services. This was a moment to see the generosity, bravery and goodness of our fellow citizens. For those not able to help in any way there was a sense of powerlessness and a real desire to do something, anything to show love and concern. Hence many people talked of praying -one Sikh young man spoke of going into a church to light a candle, something not known in his tradition. This was religion at its best. No concern for religious divisions but only the desire to express solidarity with the injured and bereaved.
It so happened the film Of Gods and Men was on television that same weekend. This is the story of a community of monks killed by Islamic terrorists in Tiberine, Algeria. The film very movingly portrays their commitment to the Muslims among whom they lived and worked, their courage in the face of death but a courage that did not come easily or readily. They did not want to die, they were afraid of how it might come about but they supported one another and encouraged one another in their determination not to run away from what they knew would be their fate. And so they died well.
These are wonderful examples of human nature at its best and good lessons for us all.