Pentecost open air
Pentecost Open-air Ecumenical Service in Clogher Diocese
On Pentecost Sunday, 31st May 2009, Bishop Michael Jackson, the Church of
Ireland Bishop of Clogher along with Bishop Joseph Duffy, the Roman Catholic
lead an ecumenical service at the ancient site of Errigal Truagh.
For four years this ecumenical service was held at Clogher Fort, an ancient
Celtic site associated with St. Macartan. Two years ago it was held at Aghalurcher
Old Graveyard outside of Lisnaskea, and last year at Donagh graveyard Glaslough
Co. Monaghan. The year the service took place at Errigal Truagh Old Graveyard
on Sunday 31st May 2009 at 3.00pm. The ancient ecclesiastical site at Errigal
Truagh is dedicated to St Muadain, a 6th century Irish Saint. It includes
the ruins of a medieval church in the ancient graveyard, a Holy Well, an
Old Schoolhouse and the present Church of Ireland Parish Church.
The service included reflections from local young people on Pentecost and
on the readings of the day. Local choirs came together to prepare for the
service. Members of the public were warmly invited to come along and join
in the service which draws increasing numbers each year.
Readings: Numbers 11.24-30; St John 15.26, 27 and 16.4b-15
Address by the Right Reverend Dr Michael Jackson, bishop of Clogher
St John 16.8a: And when he comes he will prove the world wrong …
It is all too difficult to make the case for Christianity in today’s
world without calling down scorn – even more than wrath – from
nearly every quarter for being irrelevant. It is rather like that old-fashioned
party-game: Pass the Parcel. It seems as if the church is always caught out
holding the parcel when the lights are switched on and has to walk away from
the fun and games – defeated yet again. Somehow in today’s highly
selective and thoroughly secularized definition of meaning itself, the church
has found itself defined as having nothing to contribute because it has nothing
meaningful to offer any longer. We have reached this position in a relatively
short time and we, of course, have ourselves to thank for this in so many
ways. The tide of time and the cycle of change batter hard an institution
which seeks to hand on tradition. However dynamic our intentions, delivery
often fails to excite. When we consider the increasingly dismal record of
church people and church leaders in relation to so many things which matter
to lay people, there is little wonder that negativity is now in the air we
all breathe about church itself. At the same time, it would be very easy
to conclude, as disciples of Jesus Christ, that we have nothing to contribute;
that we are in that cheap and cheerful modern phrase ‘no longer fit
for purpose’; that we are so comprehensively disempowered as to be
This would be a mistake. The generosity of the Gospel, the sweep of the
Spirit and the graciousness of God outrun the worst and the best of human
attempts to express who God is and what God does. The recognition of sin
as wrongdoing is essential to any aspiration to repentance, forgiveness and
restoration. This is not to let anyone off the hook – it is, rather,
to set our genuine attempts to be God’s children in the ambit of God’s
love and work. It is also to give voice to the glory of God on the day in
the Christian Year – Pentecost itself - when we celebrate the presence
of God in every place at every time and for every one. In this context proving
the world wrong may sound rather ambitious and foolhardy. But let us be careful
and for a moment look at the three areas where the Advocate will, in the
thought of St John’s Gospel, prove the world wrong.
They are defined as follows: about sin and righteousness and judgement.
Stated like this, they are not self-explanatory. What is very important in
linking what God does with them and with those to whom they relate is the
term: Advocate. The advocate pleads the case. We are between law courts in
St John’s thought and expression and the Advocate is so important because
the Advocate will plead the Christian case in the Court of Appeal on three
charges, in three ways. The Advocate will plead that Jesus was not a sinner
and impostor. The Advocate will plead that righteousness comes as a gift
from Christ with the Father in the Spirit. The Advocate will plead that the
definitive judgement was and remains the judgement as meted out to the unjust
judges and the Prince of this world by the transformative death and resurrection
of Jesus Christ. It is in this framework that St John’s Gospel speaks
so consistently violently of the world. It is not that St John is defending
the church as such – indeed there was no church as such in his day.
Yet, too many branches of Christianity have taken the language used of the
world in John as justification of their own withdrawal from the world and
their own self-righteousness in the face of it. But it is indeed the very
same world into which the child of Bethlehem came and was sent to save. And
churches are corrupted and corrupt and corrupting, of that there is no doubt.
The dilemma is real, the tension is fierce but the lines are cleared by
the Advocate – to prepare us for a different way of acting, of being
and of reacting. In standing with the Jesus who was without sin; in accepting
that righteousness comes from the Trinitarian God working as One; in separating
out injustice in the world – we, as followers of such a God and such
a Christ, cannot stand for ourselves alone but we must stand with those who
are in need, with those who are being abused, dehumanized, treated unjustly,
with those whom we have hurt and with those who have hurt us. For this reason,
as much as for any other, it is important that we let ourselves and everyone
else be embraced by the open heaven of the day of Pentecost.
The illustration from Numbers of the life and working of the Spirit of God
is a useful and a timely one to keep before us. It points us towards recognition,
delight and the dignity of other people. The church of today cannot ‘bottle’ the
Spirit and decant the Spirit on its own terms, whether they be good, bad
or terrible. However unattractive it is to us as people associated with the
warp and weave of an institution such as the church, we cannot presume to
limit or to thwart the operation of the Spirit – and expect to be credible.
An over-anxious Joshua, a young man in leadership showing early signs of
principled responsibility, thinks that Moses needs to know what is really
going on back in the camp. Once Moses does know, he immediately embraces
the prophesying of Eldad and Medad as something much more than a breach of
protocol or the opportunism of buskers with no permit. He takes it as an
example of what is possible in the Spirit.
We are asked in Ireland often to be generous about the past and about our
remembering. We need also to be generous about the future and our envisioning.
That is why I am so honoured to be part of this Whitsun Service every year.
It is here together and across what others may see as insuperable divisions
of sectarian prejudice and deep-running hatred – still sadly all too
alive and kicking hard - that we give voice to the binding presence of the
Spirit of the Christ on the Day of Pentecost. We simply cannot tell where
God will bring us together next!
Numbers 11.29: But Moses said to Joshua, Are you jealous on my account?
I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord
would bestow his spirit on them all.