Good Friday and the Easter call to reconciliation

Meaningful reconciliation is the unfinished work of the Good Friday Agreement, say Archbishops of Armagh Eamon Martin and John McDowell in a joint message for Holy Week and Easter

Three Crosses On Mountain With Red Clouds
Reconciliation is at the heart of Good Friday and Easter (RomoloTavani/Getty Images)
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” - 2 Corinthians 5:18-19

“NEVER mind.” Although it’s an easy phrase to say, and we’ve probably all used it at times to mask our own shortcomings or those of the ones we love, those words “never mind” are two of the most demoralising in any language.

The events of Holy Week and Easter are the exact opposite of “never mind”. Christians have attempted to explain the meaning the Cross and Passion in a host of ways. But amidst all the theories, there is complete agreement that God did mind. God cared that the creation which he loves with an everlasting love was alienated from him, and God Himself bore the cost of reconciling it to Him.

God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ. In one sense that was the end of the matter. God had done something which we could not do.

But in another sense it was only the beginning of the matter as God has entrusted to us both the ‘message’ and the ongoing ‘ministry’ of reconciliation.

This time last year, when we marked the 25th anniversary of the signing of Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, we asked people to remember what a significant and gracious achievement that was.

Among its many virtues it carried the message of reconciliation and held out the promise of a truly reconciled society in Northern Ireland and within “the totality of relationships” across these islands.

One year on, rather than simply re-emphasising the message of reconciliation, we prefer – in all humility and admitting our own failings – to call Christians, and all people of goodwill, to the ministry of reconciliation.

Reconciliation is not merely an optional extra to the work of peacemaking; it is an imperative – an essential duty and service.

Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, pictured left, with Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh John McDowell
Catholic Archbishop of Armagh Eamon Martin, pictured left, with Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh John McDowell

No doubt these twin ideas of the message and ministry of reconciliation occurred to St Paul because of his own experience as an apostle. He had tramped around the Mediterranean world proclaiming the ‘good news’ that the world had been reconciled to God by the Cross and Resurrection of Christ.

Although the number of ready believers was initially small in number, and for the most part insignificant in social status, still together they began the transformation of the world and gave it the gift of its most enduring symbol – the Cross.

Paul also discovered that it was never a case of ‘job done’. As soon as he moved on from one newly established Christian community to the next city, he left behind innumerable disagreements, rivalries, misunderstandings and sometimes worse. So, as we would say, he embedded his message by his ministry – his service to the continuing and always unfinished work of reconciliation.

Reconciliation is not merely an optional extra to the work of peacemaking; it is an imperative – an essential duty and service

He wrote to, and sometimes revisited, the churches he had established – advising, encouraging, admonishing, pleading, explaining and warning. He knew that his work would never be done because everywhere there were forces and influences and individuals which undermined the work of reconciling and restoring broken relationships.

Within our own broken society, the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement has held out the challenging ‘message’ of reconciliation. However, it will only be put into effect if we commit ourselves to the ‘ministry’ (i.e. the service) of reconciliation.

Good Friday Agreement
The Good Friday Agreement was signed in April 1998 (Niall Carson/PA)

Christian people have a particular calling to this work of service, knowing ourselves to be indebted to God in a way we can never repay. We have been forgiven much and are called to love much.

Meaningful reconciliation here is the unfinished work of peace. We all have a part to play in the service of building a reconciled society: governments, in the framing of policy and legislation and in the rebuilding of relationships at the highest levels; civic society, in fulfilling their varied tasks with competence and honesty; individual citizens, in remembering that great societies are those which take into account not only their debt to the past, but also their obligations to those yet to be born.

We are thankful these days for having recently witnessed in Northern Ireland ‘a little resurrection’ of certain institutions, which in themselves are necessary but which in reality are impotent things without the ministry of reconciliation which we each hold in our hands.

“Never mind” is not an option.

  • The Most Revd John McDowell is the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh; the Most Revd Eamon Martin is the Catholic Archbishop of Armagh