From Treasures of Irish Christianity, Salvador Ryan and Brendan Leahy, editors
I felt churned up inside with anger and despair when I got the news. On Wednesday afternoon, 5 February 1992, two UFF gunmen walked into Sean Graham’s Bookmakers on Belfast’s Ormeau Road and shot dead five innocent Catholics, four men and a fifteen-year-old boy. My church was close by.
The next evening I visited the five families with some of our church elders and prayed with them. We were welcomed with extraordinary warmth. As Sunday approached I found it difficult to concentrate on preparing the liturgy for the Lord’s Supper. I kept asking myself, “What is the link between the sacrament and the murders?” Slowly it dawned on me that the grace of the Eucharist sacrament lies in its being earthed in my locality just as the cross was sunk deep into the soil of Golgotha.
As the congregation was gathering on Sunday morning, I placed 150 photocopied sheets with the addresses of the bereaved families on the Communion table, between the chalice and the bread. On leaving church, each person was given a sheet and urged to visit the families.
I witnessed remarkable scenes: Presbyterians and Catholics embracing each other in homes darkened by grief but lit up with love. Those images convinced me that the Eucharist is organically inseparable from reconciliation.
The eucharistic project undertaken in Geneva by the Reformer John Calvin (1541-1564) was shaped by his conviction that the Lord’s Supper should be “set before the church at least once a week.” As we encounter Christ, he writes, “our souls are fed by his flesh and blood. He pours his life into us, as if it penetrated into the marrow of our bones.”
Exposing worshipers to such a Niagara of grace raises hope that our churches might become centers of reconciliation. In the last decade, remarkable steps in that direction have been taken. But another reality screams back at us.
Two thirds of young people aged between sixteen and twenty-five have never had a meaningful conversation with someone from the other community in Northern Ireland. Only 10 percent of Protestant ministers and Catholic priests have attempted to build bridges towards each other. Spiritual estrangement still scars Northern Ireland.
Peace-building initiatives have been sustained by a few courageous individuals, while noble ecclesiastical declarations have evaporated into the ether of moral evasion. Churches backed away from becoming a reconciling influence during the Troubles and now display minimal interest in post-violence reconstruction. If Christ pours his life into us, why doesn’t it show up locally?
In what ways, then, does our risen Lord impact us at Communion?
He makes our lifestyles more inclusive.
On every page of the Gospels, Jesus models for us the choice to become inclusive. In a society fractured by cultural, political, religion, and ethnic animosities, he welcomes into his friendship a motley crew of followers and molds them into one family. They reverence God as Father and embrace each other as brothers and sisters; (Mark 3:31-35). If we shrink our circle of relationships to people like ourselves, grace will attempt to prise it open.
He fosters within us a vocation to peacemaking.
In every child birthed by the Spirit of God, the Father nurtures a passion for peacemaking. The first lessons Jesus gave his followers in kingdom living spelt out this new self-understanding: “Happy are those who work for peace; God will call them his children!” (Matthew 5:9; 21-24). Reconciliation soars like Everest as a discipleship priority in his teaching, and ranges from the kitchen to the cosmos.
He releases into us a breathtaking vision.
The vision that motivated Jesus, (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 13:28-29), is not deeply rooted in Northern Irish Christians. Yet it is immense, both in the confidence with which Jesus espoused it and also the tenacity with which he took it into the darkness of Calvary:
Many outsiders will soon be coming from all directions – streaming in from the east and west, pouring in from the north and south, sitting down at God’s kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob!
When we take into ourselves the Body of Christ, his Messianic dream is also gifted and planted within us. We are captured by his vision and set ourselves to challenge the barriers around us, as Paul reminds us: “Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. He got us to embrace each other and that was the end of the hostility.” (Ephesians 2:14-18).
Earthing the Eucharist, therefore, in the soil of divided communities allows the new realities of unifying grace to blossom. The Sean Graham murders clarified this for me, just as the death of Jesus did for the early church.