Fr Martin Magill – In Joyful Hope: Lamenting our Divisions and Striving Towards a New Covenant

magillmartinLast night St Oliver Plunkett’s Catholic Church in Lenadoon, West Belfast, hosted the latest ‘In Joyful Hope’ event, in which Christians from a variety of denominations came together for Eucharistic fellowship.

Fr Martin Magill, the parish priest, spoke on lamentation and on striving towards a fuller embodiment of the ‘new covenant of Jesus our saviour.’

He reflected realistically on the divisions that remain in Belfast particularly (and by extension, these islands more generally), yet provided something of a vision of hope that might be realised through united prayer and action.

He also referenced the contemporary context of the centenary of the Ulster Covenant and quoted from a sermon on the covenant delivered by Dean John Mann last Sunday in St Anne’s Church of Ireland Cathedral, who spoke of a vision of the ‘two traditions … walking together.’

Fr Magill has kindly allowed me to reproduce his homily in full below.

Fr Martin Magill – In Joyful Hope

A few weeks ago, along with two friends, I took part in an event called Lament in the first ever East Belfast Arts Festival. This was how it was described in the festival programme:

“Walking Meditation between some of the churches in East Belfast. Walking meditation is a contemplative healing practice where close attention is paid to the action of walking”.

The experience made a huge impact on me – I went to East Belfast, a part of my city I don’t know well. I was at times overwhelmed with what I saw – protective grills on people’s homes, very high and menacing fences and walls, flags and bunting, aggressive murals.

But even more than this there’s another picture emblazoned on my mind:

a picture of buildings – stone buildings, three massive buildings and two less imposing buildings – Let me give them names – St Matthew’s Catholic Church, Westbourne Presbyterian Church, St Patrick’s Church of Ireland, St Martin’s Church of Ireland, and Newtownards Road Elim Church.

Within a short space – within my field of vision – here were 5 churches. It was not hard for me to see the signs of human division in the churches and in the area, and I came to understand why the organisers of the walking meditation called it Lament.

It reminded me of the lament of Jesus over Jerusalem:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”

The experience left me with the thought: Our church leaders, of different denominations, all over our city, have built huge buildings – many of which are now largely empty and not often used. Is this the best we can do?

It got me thinking – this is my city and is this the sort of legacy I want to leave when my time in this world comes to an end

I’m presenting this a negative picture contrasting with the different vision on offer tonight in this experience of Joyful Hope– Tonight is about relationships rooted in the words of St Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians:

“Just as a human body, though it is made up of many parts, is a single unit because all these parts, though many, make one body, so it is with Christ. In the one Spirit we were all baptised, Jews as well as Greeks, slaves as well as citizens, and one Spirit was given to us all to drink”

It seemed appropriate that Nigel Beatty from the Church of the Good Shepherd in Monkstown should have read this passage because the Church of the Good Shepherd is an example of a covenant partnership between Methodists and Anglicans and it is now known as a uniting church.

After a short time of silence, Myrtle McKay from St Matthew’s Church of Ireland, Woodvale Road, with whom members of this parish have had a relationship dating back 18 years, will lead us in intercessory prayer,

And after the pain experienced at the time of distribution of Holy Communion, when we are unable to share together at the Lord’s Table, Rev Steve Stockman of Fitzroy Presbyterian will share his poem on the Four Corners of our City (you can read it in full on Rev Stockman’s blog).

In some ways, in the initiative entitled In Joyful Hope, we are offered another vision and the encouraging words of the leaflet:

“we firmly believe that the joy of being present at the Eucharistic worship of another Christian tradition is greater than the pain experienced” when we don’t share at the same table.

The hope of this initiative is to contribute to the day when we can all share in a common Eucharist.

As our city prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Ulster Covenant, we recall and celebrate the new covenant of Jesus our saviour who shed his blood for us and gave his life to reconcile to his Father and to one another

Last Sunday afternoon, in St Anne’s Cathedral, Dean John Mann preaching at a centenary service for the signing of the Ulster Covenant, finished his sermon in this way:

“We are Christians, so we worship God, not the land; serve Christ who in love gave himself to serve others, and believe that in the power of the Holy Spirit all things are possible for him who has faith, even to moving mountains. We have a chance to celebrate and remember a crucial moment in the history of this place, that showed the determination of a generation of the Protestant people of this island to shape their own destiny, now, in a different age, we may do the same, but today we do it with everyone; to seek to be two traditions in one community, not limping with one leg stronger than the other, but walking together, not just the length of ourselves, but to the top of the mountain that we need to move”.

In the Jesus covenant we pray the day will come when filled by the Spirit from our baptism, nourished by the body and blood of Jesus at One and the same Table, we can together as his followers go out into the city to proclaim the good news that Jesus is risen.

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