The Eve of Pentecost at Stormont 2016

StormontStormontOn Saturday, the Eve of  Pentecost, the week before the new assembly was elected we were invited to join the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship, for a special time of prayer in Stormont  the legislative body responsible for Northern Ireland “in a Spirit of thanksgiving for the journey to peace”  
Clonard is a Redemptorist monastery in Belfast where our friend Gerry Reynolds who died recently worked untiringly for peace and reconciliation, in collaboration with the Fitzroy Fellowship who belong to the Presbyterian Church. For many years they have worked together in Belfast for peace.
We met in an “upper room” (Act 1-2) in front of a large icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The group numbered 32 people and we prayed together for an
Hour that this building “icon of division” in the past, can now become an “icon of Peace”. The Holy Spirit was invoked on each of the newly elected  Members of the Legislative Assembly, as their names were read out. We lit candles aas we prayed for each person.
Rev.Steve Stockman –Presbyterian minister – gave a talk on the Gospel of the  Visitation. We were so moved by his sharing. We could in truth say “our Father” together remembering that, not so long ago, it was not  possible because of the deep division and aggressiveness between each denomination. We were aware however of the long journey we still have ahead to build lasting peace!
There was a feeling of awe among all of us for what had already been achieved! The day had a taste of Pentecost!
We share with you these seeds of hope in thanksgiving praying with all of you who are also struggling and working for peace and reconciliation between believers, cultures and countries.

Our Lady of Perpetual HelpOur Lady of Perpetual Help

Rev.Steve Stockman speaks on the Gospel of the Visitation.

So I, a Presbyterian minister, found myself in Stormont, the seat of Northern Ireland Government, with an Icon of Mary! We were actually there to pray for all of our MLAs. They had just been elected that very week and it was a very moving experience to name them all, one by one, and ask the Holy Spirit to work in and through each one of them. We were acutely aware that it was the eve of Pentecost so praying the Holy Spirit to come was an appropriate prayer.

Back to the Icon of Mary. This was a part of the Redemptorists Jubilee of the Icon. They had been taking it round Ireland, praying in Churches and neighbourhoods. For the trip to Stormont it was felt appropriate to invite the Protestant side of the Clonard-Fitzroy Fellowship so many of us from Fitzroy Presbyterian joined our brothers and sisters to model to our MLAs that it is possible to work together and cross our traditional divisions even when we hold differences.

We do have differences in how we see Mary. When I was given the privilege of sharing from Scripture I thought it would be good to be honest with those differences. The veneration of Mary has been probably what has made me most uneasy in my many times in Catholic Churches. I admitted that during the Clonard Novenas I simply change the word Mary to Jesus.

However, if we Protestants are uneasy at how our Catholic brothers and sisters venerate Mary we must be careful how little attention we pay to her. Indeed we might need to confess that we have been disparaging of her; even rude.

In the bad old days Northern Ireland’s soccer fans were known to sing very vulgar things about the Pope and Mary. Whatever way we look at Mary we need to see that she was the mother of Jesus. That should cause us to treat her, first of all, with the deepest respect and, secondly, to learn from her obedience to God. At Stormont because it was the eve of Pentecost I thought it very poignant to read Luke 1: 41-42:

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!

There is the Holy Spirit right there and then that phrase that Protestants have not been too eager to use “blessed are you among women”.

Whatever way we honour Mary across our divisions let us look at what she did for God. For 400 years very little had happened amongst the people of God. Then, once again, God interrupted time and space.

Luke chapter 1 tells us that an angel appears first to a man named Zechariah and then to a teenage girl called Mary. The angel uses a recurring phrase through the New Testament that this visit launches; “Do not be afraid!” Really! For Mary the appearing of an angel is not the most frightening bit. The angel tells her that she is going to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the son of God; the Messiah!

During an Advent service in Fitzroy, a few years back, Janet Morris led us in a reflection on these Scriptures. During that event, I turned over in my head, soul and heart these verses about Mary pregnant with God’s Son and how she then visits her cousin Elizabeth also miraculously with child.

In the intentionality of my listening, as I meditated on the words of an angel, a pregnant teenage and a supportive cousin I found myself unsettled on the fault line between earth’s expectations and the strange and mysterious ways of heaven.

Mary lived the rest of her life being misunderstood.  The neighbourhood’s most loved girl became the biggest scandal and disappointment. Pregnancy outside marriage was not the respectable way but, in adding to a million mysteries, that is the way God chose.

Mary responded to God with a huge life changing “yes”. She gave herself back to God. She took the rumour and gossip and carried the defamation of her character; in the name of God and for our salvation. Elizabeth’s words jump out, transcending the human cost to Mary with her heavenly accolade; “Blessed are you among women.”

I wrote this.

A Presbyterian poem about Mary!

CURSED (BLESSED AMONG WOMEN)
Cursed for the life that’s befallen you
Mary, Blessed among women
Cursed for what neighbours are calling you
Mary, Blessed among women
Cursed that no one will believes in you
Mary, Blessed among women
Cursed that the holy men grieve for you
Mary, Blessed among women.
 
Blessed for giving back to God
All that God had given you
Blessed that you no matter what
Did all that he asked you to
Blessed by ending up in doing
What you were born to do
Blessed for giving back to God
All that God had given you
 
Cursed by what your future serves
Mary, Blessed among women
Cursed for always living on nerves
Mary, Blessed among women
Cursed that you would suffer loss
Mary, Blessed among women
Cursed by the shadow of that cross
Mary, Blessed among women.
 
Blessed for giving back to God
All that God had given you
Blessed that you no matter what
Did all that he asked you to
Blessed by ending up doing
What you were born to do
Blessed for giving back to God
All that God had given you.

Whether Catholic or Protestant Mary’s obedience calls to us. Is God asking us to do something transformational for him? It might cost. It might destroy your reputation. It might help in God’s work of salvation. Will we respond like this most remarkable teenage girl?