The story of three fires in London
In the early hours of Sunday September 2nd 1666, burning embers from a bread oven inside the bakery that once stood here, triggered a devastating chain reaction. The resulting firestorm ripped the heart out of this great city. The blaze lasted for five days but the rebuilding work took five decades. This is London’s Burning.
The Great Fire of London began in a single building but engulfed dozens of warehouses, tore through hundreds of streets, destroying thousands of homes. With nothing much in the way of a fire brigade or fire insurance, ordinary people fought the flames with buckets of water and then lived with the awful consequences of the aftermath.
Fire came to London once again during the Blitz of 1940 when German bombers terrorised London from the sky every day and every night for nearly three months. In 1666, King Charles I was right in the thick of it, joining in the struggle to bring the flames under control, risking his life in the process. In 1940, Buckingham Palace was hit in nine separate bombing raids and on September 13th King George VI and the Queen Elizabeth, narrowly escaped death.
The following day they walked the East End in solidarity with thousands of traumatised families. The Queen told reporters “I am glad we have been bombed, it makes me feel we can look Londoners in the face” The Bible also speaks of a king who walked through the ashes of human tragedy. His name was Jesus.
In 2017 fire came to the capital of England once again at Grenfell Tower resulting in such appalling suffering and catastrophic loss of life. In the aftermath of all three infernos, The Great Fire of 1666, The Blitz of 1940 and Grenfell Tower 2017, people understandably asked “Where was God while London burned?” No answer from me is good enough but what I do know is that God’s heart breaks for the victims of injustice.
The 1666 fire was the result of an accident in a bakery but most people thought it was a terror attack by Catholic extremists. Lynchings were carried out as people vented their anger and sought to apportion blame. It’s human nature when disaster strikes for us to demand answers, we want to know who’s to blame.
During the Great Fire, St Paul’s Cathedral was gutted by the flames and molten lead from the roof ran down the streets. 87 of London’s churches were incinerated, almost half of them never to rise again. This is St Katharine Cree Church, it was built in 1631, just 35 years before the fire and although it was damaged most of the building survived.
Very soon after the disaster, the church was transformed into an emergency soup kitchen to feed the workforce rebuilding London. During the Blitz of 1940, churches became centres of refuge and relief and in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017, the response from churches was huge.
Churches have always engaged in human tragedy, reflecting the love of God to the hurting. Christianity is not an irrelevant religion to be forced down people’s throats, it’s a family of millions of ordinary people from all walks of life who have been transformed by an encounter with Jesus.
From the heart of London, I invite you to pray with me today. Lord Jesus Christ please reveal yourself to me and transform my situation and my life through your power and love, Amen.