There is little doubt that the murder of Lyra McKee was the most significant event in Northern Ireland in 2019. Lyra was a symbol of our new hope; a generation after the Troubles, taking us somewhere new.
Those shots in Derry/Londonderry were an assault on that hope. It was like we all got hit but only Lyra died. It was tragic not only for her partner and her family but all of us.
Then there was that sermon. Or that line in that sermon. My good friend Fr Martin Magill seizing the moment. Actually not being aware that a moment in his sermon was going to be seized. I had read that line the night before, when he asked some of us to go over the script. I didn't see it coming. Nor did he.
He commended the politicians for responding together in the Creggan. That was Martin. Encourage them. Spark something. Then that pause... There was no pause in the script that I read off the page. BUT that pause was the power to come...
"I am however left with a question: ‘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?’"
In the middle of a paragraph it seemed harmless enough but here in St. Anne's Cathedral in the high emotion of a funeral with all the political leaders from across two nations. Something went off. I still do not know where. A clap. Then two. Then hundreds. People on their feet. A cathedral on its feet. A country on its feet.
I was watching in Ballycastle and I was fist pumping the sky, "Go Martin. Get in there!" I was his biggest fan now (I might have been for a while) and tears welled up.
Meanwhile Martin is trying to find his place. As surprised as everyone by this impact. A moment of God. I have no doubt. A moment of frustration from a country without a government for over two years. I am certain. A moment of hope that maybe the people on the ground could send a message to their politicians. They did!
I was so excited. I wanted to speak to Martin. Eventually he phoned. He handed the phone to Anna Burns who he had met in the crowd. I loved Milkman. Meeting a hero is one thing. Being on a phone that she is on the other end of is another. I froze. She froze. "Loved your book". "Thanks." "Bye".
I asked Martin how the pop star was. He didn't understand. He understood soon enough. I watched the wake of the wave ripple out across the world. He was in the wave and didn't see. Until the TV cameras came. Martin is not one for the headlines. He rang everyday. For some grounding. He was a pop star!
In those days, interview after interview, Martin was immense. He handled it so well. He said the right things at all the right times. My respect soared. A friend messaged me, "Your Robin just became Batman!" I was proud as punch to be his Robin! It gave Martin a voice that he continues to use pastorally and prophetically.
Martin will say that the politicians missed that moment. They did. They missed the message from the people. Again. They missed a message from Lyra's generation. Again.
Yet, I do not believe the people did. Or Lyra's generation did. We need to keep that wave going up behind the politicians. Lyra's Crossroads I called it. May we take the right road. The road that Martin helped nudge us down.
The sky went black
On Good Friday morning
When the news headlines
Told us you were murdered
Shot dead, doing your deepest gladness
One of the Ceasefire children
Shot by one of the Ceasefire children
One looking forward
The other looking back
One bringing us together
The other tearing us apart
It was not a Good Friday.
In your case
It didn’t take until Sunday
We couldn’t wait, for fear of the worst
And your life couldn’t wait, so full of the best
In the same sentences that told your death
Your life bloomed and bulldozed through
The darkness hit your flesh
But it missed your light
A star that shines on
Brighter than ever
You were our hope
But though they tried to make you past tense
You are still our hope
People are now being inspired
To make judgements without being judgemental
To revere the past without worshiping it
To doggedly hold a bone of truth
In the gentlest of a grace soft mouth
Politicians, years without speaking
Standing side by side
Suspiciously grace impregnated
A palpable hope of new life
The potent power of a new seed
And in your craftiest trick of all
You got the Churches out of their cold war
At peace in the same building
Sharing your city with a better future
With all your friends and all their opinions
For you it was always about everyone
And everyone was there
Even those enemies
And your friend, Fr Martin Magill
Learning about Hufflepuff
And The Lost Boys
Drawing comparisons with Jesus blood shed
He commends the politicians,
Who stood together in the Creggan
Then, preacher perfect… pauses… to ask a question
“Why in God’s name did it take the death of a 29 year old woman
With her whole life in front of her…”
The congregation finish the sentence
Like a jury’s condemnation
Yet not applause
More like Amens with hand claps
Rippling across the pews
Then a standing ovation of "preach it"
It goes on
Like the sound of peace
Flowing up the hill to Stormont Buildings
The sound rings around Lyra McKee Crossroads
Where a young woman’s gifted legacy
And a Kairos moment collide
We can see why you loved those words of Jesus
Hungry for Justice
Like the future you lived
An alternative Ulster indeed!