Fr Martin Magill paid a return visit to St Bartholmew’s Church in Stranmillis (Church of Ireland) this past week to attend a special service of communion in the Iona style. Fr Magill was invited to take part in the distribution of the elements, which he describes movingly. He also recounts a thought-provoking sermon by Roddy Cowie.
Fr Martin Magill’s Ecumenical Tithing: St BarthoIomew’s Church
I returned to St Bartholomew’s Church, Stranmillis, because I had heard there was to be an evening service of communion in the Iona style.
On the way in, I was invited to take part by carrying up either the bread or wine in the service – this added to the poignancy of the occasion. I decided to use the experience as another opportunity to pray for the unity of Christians and for the day when Christians would be able to share the one bread and the one cup.
The service began with a welcome from Rev Colin White after which we sang the opening hymn.
The Old Testament reading was from Isaiah 35:1 onwards and was powerfully proclaimed by Roddy Cowie, a member of the choir. The gospel passage was from John 3:22 onwards.
Roddy also preached the sermon in which he invited us to place ourselves in the “shoes” of John the Baptist. He painted a picture of John with his magnetic personality, a mighty man whose days were numbered – “the hand of death was heavy on his shoulder.” In addition, someone else, his cousin Jesus, was taking up the mantle, and moving into his role.
Reading verse 30 – “he must become greater, I must become less,” he asked, “What must this have been like for John?” Here was John soon to face Herod’s prison, Jesus taking on his role: If we were in John’s place, would it shake us? Yet John feels as if he is at a wedding feast and rejoices for the bridegroom. How can John be feeling like that?
Roddy suggested 3 possible answers:
- John was a saint, so it was easy for him. Yet John was a terrifying man, no push over, he lacerated the establishment, John was a firebrand. This answer lacked depth.
- John was devoted to a cause – the cause was coming to fulfilment – so death does not matter in this situation. After all, there are some wild prophets in our world. Roddy suggested this was a better answer but it did not fully explain John’s response.
- Rather, the core of the response of John the Baptist was his response to Jesus. John was feeling the hand of death, a younger man was about to step in. He knew the younger man, his cousin, and for John to see him rise was happiness: “behold the lamb of God”. Roddy invited us to think about it in reality – John admired Jesus – he knew Jesus was above all – this feeling was so strong, he knew his cousin was coming into his own, he knew he was more important than he was. John adored Jesus.
The sermon was followed by prayers of concern, the breaking and sharing of bread and wine. This became especially poignant for me as I was passed the bread and wine and following my own Church’s discipline, I had to pass these on without partaking of them. We then had a sign of peace, the closing responses and the final hymn to which we all processed out of the church.
(Image: Window of St John the Baptist in the University Church of St Mary in Oxford; source on flickr by Lawrence OP)