“I commend our political leaders for standing together in Creggan on Good Friday. I am however left with the question. Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman, with her whole life in front of her, to get to this point?” Father Martin Magill speaking at the funeral of Lyra McKee on 24th April 2019
This was clearly directed at Arlene Foster and Mary Lou McDonald, the leaders of the DUP and Sinn Féin.
Has the message got across? Well it will struggle to judging by the immediate response that these figures were the last to stand and applaud as others in the congregation rose.
Politicians and other public figures play a key role and are in a difficult position because they represent sections of the community whose position they seek to protect and whose support they seek to garner.
We have just finished celebrating Easter and on Easter Sunday, when we remembered what the cross stands for – forgiveness in Christ today and judgment through Christ in the future. Both are crucial. This is easily said but it is the Christian message and it is vital to grasp and put in that order.
However, we frequently we reverse the order – we dispense judgment now and postpone forgiveness for the future.
This is what preoccupied power figures in the last week of Jesus’ life and jams the politicians, religious and public leaders in Northern Ireland but also in many other contexts.
In the greatest challenges of our time, we need brave movements of recognition, forgiveness and reconciliation to come to the fore now and to seek reckoning, reordering and judgment in the future that will not be controlled by one interest group. This dynamic needs to play out in the spheres of politics on the island of Ireland, addressing the environmental crisis, combatting violent extremism and debates about Europe to name but a few.
For Christians to say that this movement needs the enabling, sacrificial love and authority of Christ is not a narrow religious point. It is the heart of our faith and recognition that leaders who represent vested interest will find it hardest to meet this challenge.
The Easter good news of forgiveness and judgment is for people personally and also for society at large. Everything must, can and will be different because of Easter and the cross. This can create a liberating order of forgiveness and judgment when engaged with by politicians, campaigners, journalists and community leaders alike. Without this history may repeat itself.
So when Father Martin Magill asks: “Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29-year-old woman, with her whole life in front of her, to get to this point?” maybe we have the answer.
Graham Brownlee, April 2019