COI Gazette – 14th April 2017

Irish Council of Churches meets at Belfast Central Mission

The Revd Richard Johnston, Superintendent of BCM, addresses the ICC. Also pictured are, from left, Dr Nicola Brady (ICC General Secretary) and Bishop John McDowell (ICC President).

The Revd Richard Johnston, Superintendent of BCM, addresses the ICC. Also pictured are, from left,
Dr Nicola Brady (ICC General Secretary) and Bishop John McDowell (ICC President).

The Irish Council of Churches (ICC) – part of the national ecumenical grouping, Churches in Ireland Connecting in Christ – held its 94th Annual Meeting at the Methodist Church’s Belfast Central Mission (BCM) on 30th March. The Bishop of Clogher, the Rt Revd John McDowell, presided.

Representatives of the member-Churches heard a presentation on the work of the BCM by its Superintendent, the Revd Richard Johnston.



While the events of the first Good Friday and of the first Easter Day are remembered by the Church separately on those days each year, the two are of course deeply interrelated. While they therefore belong together, each has its own special meaning and significance and each brings out different emotions within those who truly walk the way of the cross and those who truly enter into the joy of the resurrection message.

Solemnity and celebration do not come together easily. Thoughts have a very different focus in each and it is right that Christians should fully enter into the contrasting spirit of each. It is a challenging case of holding the balance, not allowing the one to drown out the other while also not allowing either to be considered in isolation.

The cross was the moment of Christ’s ultimate self-giving, bringing to an end an earthly life of constant self-giving in so many ways. The empty tomb tells of the almighty power of God, who makes all things new. While Jesus cried out from the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, we know that he was far from forsaken because, once this terrible ordeal was over, there was to come that moment of ultimate victory.

The combined significance of Good Friday and Easter Day has been succinctly set out by Rowan Williams in his book, God with Us – The meaning of the cross and resurrection. Then and now (SPCK, 2017). The former Archbishop of Canterbury sees any understanding of the sacrifice of Christ as simply about him being ‘offered’ on Calvary as too lacking in understanding of the whole concept of sacrifice, which he links in a theologically very creative way with that of obedience and the approach of the first Christians to the subject: “It wasn’t surprising that the first Christians turned to the language of sacrifice. They knew it wasn’t straightforward, they knew the problems that we feel and they were often a lot more nuanced and sophisticated than many modern Christians when they talked about the cross. They knew that sacrifice was a vast and rich metaphor, and they couldn’t think of any better way of understanding the obedience of Jesus.” (p.37) The sacrifice of Christ is thus portrayed as the sacrifice of his earthly lifelong obedience, culminating in the cross itself, which is not “an episode at the end of the life of Jesus but the coming to fulfilment of what that life has been about” (p.45).

The time of sacrifice gives way to the time of new life. The resurrection, which Rowan Williams affirms as an event that left the tomb empty (p.82), is the vindication of Jesus but is also a sign to the world that pain need not deny victory, that sacrificial obedience is not about loss but is about gain far beyond what one can ever imagine.

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