Thinking Anew: Evil, however brutal, can never win

 A mourner  at the funeral service of   journalist Lyra McKee. Photograph:  Brian Lawless/EPA

A mourner at the funeral service of journalist Lyra McKee. Photograph: Brian Lawless/EPA

 

Churches have been in the news in recent weeks and not for good reasons. When terror struck in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday it sent a shockwave around the world. The fact that the targets included three churches, resulting in the murder and maiming of hundreds, added to the sense of outrage felt by people everywhere. There is a tendency to see the perpetrators as being sick or misled but beyond that possibility lies the stark reality of evil, giving vent to anger and hatred. Attacks on places of worship are not uncommon: in March a gunman attacked worshippers in mosques in Christchurch New Zealand, and in Louisiana in the US three black churches were burnt down.

Buildings can be replaced but lives cannot, and sadly those not directly affected soon forget. In 1983 for example, in Darkley, Co Armagh, gunmen attacked Mountain Lodge Pentecostal Church, killing three people and wounding seven. The victims are long forgotten and their families, like thousands of others, North and South, abandoned to their grief.

Last week political violence yet again showed its ugly character in the murder of Lyra McKee, a talented young woman cut down in the name of republicanism. At her funeral in St Anne’s Cathedral Belfast, Fr Martin Magill’s clear challenge hit the headlines: “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 us to this point?” His words were greeted with a standing ovation both inside and outside the cathedral. There has been speculation about a political response and certainly the question has political implications, but it was primarily a moral question asked in God’s name, in God’s house. Are the sponsors and excusers of violence listening?

In the face of such terrible deeds we must acknowledge the reality of evil. St Paul warned: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” We are all joined in that struggle everyday as we respond to the issues of our time.

As the flames destroyed Notre Dame cathedral a commentator quoted Heinrich Heine, the German-Jewish poet who, almost two centuries ago, was concerned about the attitudes of his generation: “People in those old times had convictions; we moderns only have opinions. And it needs more than a mere opinion to erect a Gothic cathedral” – an interesting thought as the future of Notre Dame is being discussed. Heine could be writing about our own times.

Some noticed that the golden crucifix over Notre Dame’s high altar not only survived the fire but was illuminated by the flames, a visual reminder of the Christian conviction that in the death-defying cross we are assured that evil, however brutal or destructive, can never win.

Tomorrow’s readings echo that conviction as lives are touched by God. The psalmist (Psalms 30) believed he was dying and is unexpectedly alive: “You brought me up O Lord from the dead; You restored me to life...”

The reading from Acts tells how Paul, driven by anger, is on his way to destroy the fledgling church only to be converted on the road to Damascus. He would become the first Christian theologian.

The gospel reading suggests that Jesus is so presumed dead that his followers are quietly resuming their “normal” lives, that is until the risen Jesus joins them by the sea of Tiberias and the Easter hope is given new life.

Even in bad times the church buildings we have been thinking about are a visible invitation to lift our eyes beyond our everyday horizons to hope and work for a better world inspired by the Easter conviction, as explained here by Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “Easter means hope prevails over despair. Jesus reigns as Lord of Lords and King of Kings . . . Easter says to us that despite everything to the contrary, his will for us will prevail, love will prevail over hate, justice over injustice and oppression, peace over exploitation and bitterness.”

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