Thursday, April 06, 2017

Parish Magazine Item

From The Rectory

Of course, being in my line of work, I have been to more than the average number of funerals. Sometimes, understandably, people are not very frank about the deceased, but they are often fascinating occasions. Even if one has known the deceased fairly well, there can often be unexpected revelations in a good eulogy. Though I have never yet been at a funeral where the tribute was given by a former President of the United States.

Image result for martin mcguinness

Martin McGuiness’ funeral was a predictably extraordinary conclusion to a most remarkable life. Reactions ranged from the highest praise to the unmitigated opprobrium. Our newspaper contained remarkable examples of forgiveness and well as some comments which seemed frankly vengeful. It was unusual to hear repentance and divine punishment discussed on the main news bulletins.  

The criticisms of McGuiness are understandable, especially from those who have suffered great loss as a result of his actions or of those under his command. Some chose to overlook the first part of McGuiness’ life for the sake of hailing him for the far-reaching and much needed changes which he helped to bring about in Northern Ireland. Whatever our views of him and his past, his was an amazing journey from the Bogside to Deputy First Minister.  

Norman Tebbit’s wife was permanently disabled as a result of the 1984 IRA bombing on the Grand Hotel in Brighton. I expect we might find his comments distasteful, but they are thought provoking: Tebbit called McGuiness a coward who became a so-called “man of peace” out of personal expediency because he feared arrest and imprisonment for multiple murders. Tebbit claimed the world is a sweeter, cleaner place without McGuiness, who in his view never confessed his sins, repented nor sought atonement. Tebbit said: “He claimed to be a Roman Catholic. I hope that his beliefs turn out to be true and he'll be parked in a particularly hot and unpleasant corner of hell for the rest of eternity.”

We can be thankful that it is not our job to judge any individual. We cannot see into men’s hearts and we can trust the Judge of all the world to do right.

It seems to me that we ought to avoid both naivety and cynicism.

I am no expert on the politics of Northern Ireland but some informed commentators have agreed with the view that McGuiness’ conversion to peace was merely tactical. The IRA had been infiltrated by the British security services and both sides knew they could never win by force alone. As I understand it, McGuinness never apologised for the so-called armed struggle, which had included the calculated murder of many innocent people. That cannot be called real repentance.

Yet we must hold on to the fact that God’s transforming power can reach the most hardened. The Bible asks, “Can a leopard change its spots?”, expecting the answer, “no”, but God can change and cleanse even the most wicked of people. By God’s grace and the power of his Holy Spirit, real repentance and forgiveness are possible. As the hymn has it: “The vilest offender who truly believes that moment from Jesus a pardon receives”.

The extent of God’s grace takes some getting used to. The fact is that all of us are sinners who deserve his judgement. We rightly look to God for justice, but because Jesus died for sinners like you and me on the cross, God can be both the just judge, and the one who vindicates guilty sinners. Ultimately, if we are to have any hope, we must look to God for his mercy, not demand our just deserts. God does not desire the death of a sinner but rather that he might turn from his wickedness and live. Christ’s arms are ever open to any who will turn to him.

The Revd Marc Lloyd

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