Sunday, April 12, 2009


happy easter... as i write the bells of the local church are pealing.

last night after a lovely meal and company hosted by Pádraig, he, Willow, Mark and i headed round to Clonard for the Easter Vigil. Will Crawley was there to film the vigil for an upcoming BBC programme on religion in Northern Ireland, and i'm pretty sure the cameraman must have been pretty delighted with the scenes on offer.
the vigil began outside the church with a fire being lit in a brazier from which the Paschal candle was lit. from this in turn the candles held by the congregants were lit and then the light passed from candle to candle throughout the crowd as the people followed the Paschal candle into the darkened church.
inside, a traditional Irish litany was sung by a priest and when the congregation sang the refrain of praise the candles were lifted up high. it was beautiful. each time the candles were lifted it was as if light was being breathed into being. it wasn't til after a reading of the entire creation story in Genesis that the electric lights in the church were slowly turned on to reveal Clonard's rich interior. we later relit our candles for the baptism of a South African man, Philip. the congregants were invited to renew their baptismal vows and once Philip had been baptised several priests moved through the church with bowls of holy water, dipping evergreen branches, ("palm leaves" from Palm Sunday) into the water and annointed the people. i've been in Clonard and masses in general enough times to not mind that i can't remember the entire liturgy. the vigil was a feast for the senses. but i left the service with a sense of incompleteness and questions, lightly held, but suspended within me and seeking resolve...

to have been raised in what were for the most part ecumenically minded Presbyterian congregations i am used to communion being preceded by a very intentional welcome to all. what i write here i write without rancour or resentment and i know enough about the monastic community at Clonard and its ecumenical activities to know that had i chosen to receive communion i could have done so without fear of reprisal or judgment. i was present several years back at a Presbyterian communion at which one of Clonard's priests took his first public communion in a Protestant church - it was a *deeply* moving occasion of ecumenical friendship. so this is not about Clonard or its people. but as the liturgy unfolded i was struck by the absence of the explicit welcome i expect to find weaved into the liturgy...

the Roman Catholic liturgy does contain these lines,

Priest: This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.
All: Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.

in conversation after the service, Pádraig noted these lines as being the basis of welcome, that i could have participated, and i had heard them. but i wasn't the only one in our group who heard the absence of the welcome we are used to our own traditions. i believe that not sharing in the Mass was my choice. i did not desire permission in order to partake. through lack of belief in transubstantiation, or feminist principle, or as one who is divorced, i might have found various reasons to not partake. but it came down to this... to have come from a denomination in which one can measure the theology of the church one finds oneself in by how the welcome is phrased (and in my own tradition were it absent or delivered in a way that inferred exclusiveness, i would not take it) last night, not being on 'home turf', i found myself not being one of the 'welcoming' but one seeking explicit invitation as a visitor.

i have shared communion, although not in recent years, non-attending backslider that i am, in both the lowness of Presbyterian tradition and high Anglicanism. the mass liturgy is no different from these in showing the limitations as much as the rich beauty of liturgy.

i haven't taken mass when at the midnight Christmas eve vigil in Clonard. but this Easter vigil... something was different. it mattered in a way that it had not before. i left the church, grateful to have been there but with a sense of there being a gap... there was something i did not receive. the choice was mine to not step across that threshold, and so i write all of this, not to criticize but to question... what does it mean to feel welcomed to the table? what were the words i needed to hear?

i hold these questions lightly. they do not feel like a burden. perhaps they are an invitation of their own... to understand better what belonging at the table means to me...


today, Easter Sunday, marks a moving from orthodoxy of the vigil to what some might call heresy and others think of as theodrama. as i sat in the church last night i contemplated several times on what is to come in the ikon gathering, Judas. Pete's been recording the reflections, which Jonny's going to mix with music and then they'll be posted online. he recorded mine yesterday morning.

i believe in G-D as the ear that hears all human hearts... and is witness to both our suffering and our resurrecting
the homily delivered last night sealed for me why i feel complete peace with what we will be exploring. for the boundaries we are pushing at, the story we are trying to break open... even though some of my own words might be recieved by some as a kind of blasphemy...

here it is, paraphrased... (how to spot the Presbyterian in a congregation: the one taking notes in the sermon ;) )

when we move from self-centredness and focussing on our own happiness to giving to others,
resurrection is happening. new life is emerging.
when hopelessness and despair turns to hope, resurrection is happening. new life is emerging.
when we are released from addiction into freedom, resurrection is happening. new life is emerging.
when we find a way through to heal dispute, resurrection is happening. new life is emerging.
when in chaos, we find meaningful sense, resurrection is happening. new life is emerging.
when we are suffering and we find a place of acceptance and even meaning, resurrection is happening. new life is emerging.
in survival of hardship, resurrection is happening. new life is emerging.
when we find purpose, meaning and happiness in unexpected places, resurrection is happening. new life is emerging.

find resurrection in your life. and share it. with those you love. and perhaps even with those you might hate.

if you are still at Good Friday, still at the cross, then hold onto trust, that Christ is risen and brings new life.

Judas has remained in a perpetual Good Friday... his legacy - a long anguished cry throughout history, as the one who is scorned as betrayer and does not live to see resurrection. i believe in a G-D of welcome and invitation. who stands with Judas and all others in pain of Good Friday, and who being outside time is waiting on Easter Sunday, inviting us to be surprised by resurrection. to hold on to trust... that all things are possible. to have hope in darkness for what is always to come. G-D is both the cross and the empty tomb. and i believe we are held wherever we are. and perhaps in truth, we are all of us living in Easter Saturday, in the place inbetween for much of the time. neither there nor here. i believe in G-D who is present in that inbetween - in the vital wrestling space between endings and beginnings. the space of daily resurrection. where we might defy death with hope, however fragile. On Good Friday, there is an Easter Sunday that never ceases to be coming, just as we are always emerging...

may we hold on to trust... and may we emerge into welcome... to allow those parts of ourselves and our lives that are caught, like Judas, at the place of suffering to be heard, so they might be healed.



  1. I've just spent easter leading worship and vigils in the women's prison... it's been the most unsettling experience - exploring a story I have no faith in, but which they - and I - desperately need to be true.

    One of the lines we prayed yesterday yesterday was 'prove us wrong...'. i think, just now, that's as far as i can venture into faith.

  2. Last night I attended my very first Easter Vigil and watched one of my family being welcomed into the church, in a way in which I have never felt welcomed or accepted, although the service itself was very moving, and we managed to avoid setting anything on fire - children and candles do worry me so!

    However, it was a very different welcome that I felt when the priest dropped in this afternoon while we were still eating and sat with us sharing lunch ~ a warmth I have never felt before, a hand that has never been extended before.

    I look forward to the reflections online - I love the idea that we are always emerging, daily resurrection...that makes sense and gives me hope, thank you for sharing, Happy Easter,

  3. hey cheryl,

    "prove us wrong" - as beautiful as it is powerful...

    hey RD,

    glad you found welcome in your easter.