Spy Wednesday

Spy Wednesday. Hands up I am a Protestant. I had never heard of it. My friend Pádraig Ó Tuama mentioned it on BBC Radio Ulster’s Thought For The Day and I was straight onto the phone to my Catholic Correspondent Fr Martin Magill to ask about it.

Spy Wednesday? My Catholic brothers and sisters it seems concentrate their Holy Week thoughts on Judas on the day he looked for a way to betray Jesus, rather than on the day he actually betrayed him with a kiss.

All these years I have been concentrating my Judas surmises on Maundy Thursday. I can now bring him a day earlier and I am very happy about that.

You see, Maundy Thursday has so much going on. We find the humble God on his knees washing the disciples feet and then breaking bread, pouring wine and suggesting that he will do the same for the redemption of the world.

Catholics do liturgy better. I guess to be truthful even Protestants do liturgy better that Irish Presbyterians. In fact other Presbyterians do it better that Irish Presbyterians! Our theological prejudices have a habit of throwing Biblical babies out with the bath water. Oh, and there was bathwater that should have been thrown out BUT too many babies!!

I love Holy Week. I love walking through it. Theology for me is lived. It has flesh and blood. Even when I hear it preached or read about it in books unless it breathes out of real life events I am suspicious. Following Jesus is never meant to be cerebral. The word becoming flesh was the key!

So, Holy Week is all this theology tied up in the drama of Jesus Passion. 

I gain a day of surmising with Spy Wednesday! I can interrogate this fascinating disciple at the heart of the drama. I can eek out where I might find myself in his attitudes and agendas.

I play U2’s Until The End of The World..The spark that lit Bono’s interest in Judas was a book of poems by Irish poet Brendan Kennelly called The Book of Judas. Kennelly’s work is quite a tome, eight years of poems, where profanity sits alongside Christ as he looks at the Judas of Gethsemane, the Judas in our culture and the Judas in us all. 

In his preface, he asks questions like: Was Judas A man whose vision of things was being throttled by another, more popular vision?” 

Kennelly asks if… Judas is a “spirit not confined to the man who bore the name Judas but one more alive and consequential now at the famined, bloated, trivialized, analytical, bomb-menaced, progressive, money-mad, reasonable end of the twentieth century than ever before?” 

Most of us see Judas as Satan incarnate who sold his soul for thirty pieces of silver. If only Judas’ story was that simple. Judas and his story were so complex that Bob Dylan had wondered if Judas Iscariot had God on his side? It’s a mighty question that like so many other things we want to ignore. 

Like Kennelly and Bono I use a day in Holy Week, from now on Spy Wednesday, looking into the heart of Judas, looking out for where he sneaks around in our society…


Judas, Judas

Are you there

In a society kissing God goodbye

As we write our agendas of more and more

Of building bigger barns to horde treasure on earth


Judas Judas

Are you there

In our wee country kissing God goodbye

As we fight for a land for ourselves

That we don’t want to share with others

Because others are different

And others might impinge on our traditions and our comfort


and then I ask God to search my own heart to see where the traces of Judas are in me.


Judas, Judas

I hear you cry from inside myself

When I get frustrated

That my prayers don’t get answered NOW


Was Judas just a guy trying to manipulate his agenda and push Jesus into doing it his way? What is my agenda that I want to manipulate Jesus into fulfilling; a political one; an economic one, a theological one? 

In the end my biggest question is about other whether I still cling to my thoughts and ambitions instead of the revolutionary upside down ones that Jesus reveals in this Holy Week.




Stocki in the dark

(this is an article that I wrote for the Belfast Telegraph on Easter Sunday 2020, right in the middle of Coronavirus Lockdown)


As Easter weekends go, this one is as bleak as they get. They say that the sun is going to shine but trips to the north coast or Newcastle or wherever are banned. The only day trip we are going to have is to the next room! Saving the world depends on us all suffering…  lockdown, social distancing and for some isolation. We sacrifice our own whims for neighbours and NHS staff.

It sounds a lot like that very first Easter. Jesus has sacrificed his own life, by his own decision to enter into the death of human suffering and save the world.

We called yesterday “Good” Friday. I prefer “Discomfortable Friday”. It all seems discordant and distorted. I prefer “Callous” Friday. It all seems confused and contorted.

Jesus is on a cross.  He is in agony. His friend shave left. The people around him are laughing at him. The very sky goes black.

Yet, notice Jesus’ poise. He is able to go face to face with the Roman Governor and keep is cool. He is able to take the beatings from the soldiers with dignity. He is able to look down from the cross and speak words of comfort to his mother.

How? I believe that Jesus knew that this was a moment and he was not stuck in it. It was going to pass. It was Callous Friday but he knew that Resurrection Sunday was coming.

The apostle Paul wrote about fixing our eyes “not on what is seen but on what is unseen because what is seen is temporary but things that are unseen are eternal”. Jesus poise was as a result of keeping his eyes on the bigger picture.

So, though on Easter Saturday, Jesus is dead, tomorrow the Christian Church will be celebrating resurrection. When Mary went to anoint the dead body of Jesus she found an empty tomb. When he turned to ask the gardener where the body was she realised that it was Jesus. Alive. Bring on Sunday!

Those of us who believe in Jesus are Sunday people. Resurrection people. However, we realise that we live in a Friday world. Everything around us seems like Callous Friday. There’s war and famine, injustice and poverty, racism and sectarianism, murder and crime, domestic violence and children’s abuse. There’s a Coronavirus pandemic killing 1.5 million people across the world.

Coronavirus is a tough moment. We can feel stuck in it. We are locked in our homes on the first spring Sunday Bank Holiday weekend.

It’s Friday.

But Sunday’s coming.

Jesus’ Easter story gives us hope that there is more to come. Resurrection conceives the possibility of brand new birth, launches the potential of a whole new earth, it sparks light to sneak through holes in the dark, it bursts hope into the depth of our souls.

Easter is a sequence of events that makes sense of what Paul told believers to do, “do not fix your eyes on what is seen but in what its unseen…”

Looking at what is the “seen” of Good Friday is bleak. Looking at the yet “unseen” of Resurrection Sunday changes it all. It breathes hope. 

As we head into a weekend where we cannot be at the north coast or our holiday homes in Donegal or filling the parks around Belfast let us this year more than any other weekend remember the first Easter.

It is Friday… It is Saturday… stay home… wash your hands… socially distance… love your neighbour and our NHS.


BUT… there is hope… look ahead… Sunday IS coming!


Stocki and Marty Irish News

(this is an article that Fr Martin Magill and I wrote for the Irish News. It was published on April 9, 2020)


The script has been ripped apart. Nothing is as it was. The future is no longer easy to see. We are in Bono’s words - ‘Stuck In A Moment.’

It is a shock. We are thrown. How do we deal with this trauma? Everybody is talking about it.

We might be talking about the Coronavirus. Do you remember the days when people talked about the weather? Now we are consumed and obsessed with this pandemic.

Or… we might also be talking about two guys who were walking home after Jesus’s crucifixion. Luke records it in his account of the life of Jesus. One of them was called Cleopas and they were heading to Emmaus about seven miles from where all the action had been in Jerusalem.

Their script had been torn up too. They were sure Jesus was the Messiah. They had plans but everything was gone. Jesus had been crucified. They were consumed by it.

It was at the last 4 Corners Festival committee meeting when we were actually all in the same room, remember those old days? Jim Deeds who has become the unofficial spiritual director of the committee took us on this journey of Cleopas and his friend.

We quickly related it to in these Coronavirus Times. We all seem to be lost in the moment. The world we knew and hoped in seems gone. We are not sure what the future will be like or when it will come.

On that road to Emmaus, Jesus joined the two distraught disciples. They didn’t recognise him. He pretended he didn’t know what was going on. They invited him to rest with them and when he broke bread they realised who he was, the presence of God right there, present with them.

Finding Jesus in the middle of their confusion changed everything for our two lost souls. Firstly it made sense of their story. More important it made sense of the way the world is.

One of the names given to Jesus is Emmanuel. Emmanuel means God with us. Jesus was God with us. As John described it in his account of the life of Jesus - “The word became flesh and moved in among us”. God was a presence on earth.

There are so many places in the Bible where God talks about being with his people. The best known is Psalm 23 [22]. In the Hebrew language there are 26 words before and 26 words after the words “for you are with me”.

God with us is central to the most famous of all the Psalms. God with them was the centre of the new hope for the two disciples in Emmaus. God with us is key to how we cope with the Coronavirus.

There is nowhere in the entire Bible that God tells us that he will take away our troubles. In fact, the Bible is written by and for a people going through all kinds of troubles - slavery, famine, exile, war, oppression from Pharaohs, Herods and Caesars. God never promises to fix it but he does promise to be with us through it.

When the two guys in that house in Emmaus find themselves in the presence of Jesus everything changes; their mood, their posture, their actions. As soon as Jesus leaves them, they are up and running back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples all that they had experienced.

If you read the New Testament carefully you could imagine that these two guys run straight out of Luke’s Gospel into the Acts Of The Apostles. Luke also recorded the first activities of the Church after Jesus went back to heaven. These guys were in the vanguard of those things.

So, us? Well, we all have had our script ripped up. Time though in the presence of Jesus sends us off to do the things Jesus said for us to do.

What would Jesus do? It is an easier question to answer in Coronavirus Times. We can begin by sacrificing our own whims and desires in order to stop the spread of this virus, to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the NHS staff who are in constant danger treating those with the virus.

We are living right now in a world in isolation. Many people are anxious and lonely. All of our mental health is being stretched in far too many directions. Into such a world we all have to play our selfless part. As Jesus was a presence so it is vital that we become a presence to people even when we cannot be present with them.

It might be just the patience to help your family through this tough time, realising that we all deal with it differently. It might be that phone call or that shop for the next door neighbour. It might be an imaginative way to help a local business or musician or painter. It might be that you volunteer at a Foodbank.

For some of you it might mean being on the frontline, fighting this virus in hospitals, as doctors, nurses and yes, cleaning staff. For others it will mean looking after the children of NHS staff. There are many other necessary tasks that need done.

The script has indeed been shredded. There is a blank page laid out in front of us all. What is our story going to be? For those guys in Emmaus it was the Jesus story. Let us start writing that story all over these Coronavirus Times!



Easter Saturday






Easter Saturday

The Saturday of Easter weekend has always intrigued me. Jesus is dead. The Kingdom defeated. The disciples are in denial. Interesting day!

We can find ourselves in such places in our lives. I used Easter Saturday to pastor some friends through dark places. Call it, my Easter lament!


The great idea is buried

We talk on the day between

What we watched on Friday

And a Sunday no one’s seen

The world switched off the light

And cracked the thin veneer

It all started very good

How did we end up here?


Now where is perseverance

The secret of slow burn

Should I focus on the not yet come

And be vowing not to turn

Should I be bedding in

I’m not going to go away

Yes I am hanging on

No matter how thin this frays


When did I go wrong

Where did I get lost

And all these things I gained

Were they worth this cost

For it wasn’t crazy living

Just an ordinary mistake

All it takes is one tiny slip

For a domino effect.


The great idea is buried

We talk on the day between

What we watched on Friday

And a Sunday no one’s seen.










































Peter denies

Oh my head

Frazzled with fear


So quickly

The week

The donkey, palm branches and songs

The Temple, the tables, the doves fluttering in the shock

The basin, the towel, my feet, him washing

Me avoiding, arguing, surrendering to him 

Cleanse all of me then Lord

His disconcerting talk of betrayal, 

By one of us

The dipping of the bread

This is my body

This is my blood

What do you mean Lord

I’ll defend you

I’ll be there to the end

Denial? what do you mean denial?


No way

I’ll never leave your side


Falling asleep

The soldiers, brutal

And Judas’s kiss

The confusion

The sword

The ear

The blood

The healing

The dispersing

The running

The hiding

My head 

Frazzled with fear

Uncertainty, unclear

Chaos, questions, denials

And then I hear

A cock crow. once, twice, thrice in my ear

Suddenly I stop

Everything utterly clear

He knew

He knew what was up ahead

he knew me better than I do

I turn

And there he is

Our eyes catch

Mine horrified

Rent with guilt

Squinting in shame

Hoping not to see

But I do see

His eyes



Flint and focused

But still with his eyes crammed with all of that

Filled with grace

For them

For me

For everyone

My head is frazzled!




Some songs to soundtrack and draw spiritual reflection from in the day around Easter...


Rick Elias - Man Of No Reputation

Bruce Springsteen - Rocky Ground

Patti Smith - Until The End Of The World

Sarah Masen - Let’s Kill Him

Duke Special - The Hours

Blind Boys Of Alabama - The Cross

The Choir - Beautiful Scandalous Night

Martyn Joseph - Sunday’s Coming

McIntosh Ross - Jesus Nailed My Sins Upon The Tree

Doug Gay - Saturday Train

U2 - Window In The Skies

Nick Cave - There Is A Kingdom

Ben Kyle - Mercy



After the journey from Galilee

We were tired

But elated

We were on an adrenaline rush

We knew that something was about to give

The incident acquiring the donkey sparked our excitement

When he got on its back 

And the crowds started singing

And waving palm branches

The expectation was tangible

This was it

The King was on his way

He had had his eyes fixed on Jerusalem for some time

And here it was

Be afraid

Be very afraid

Because the days of the Romans were coming to an end

The ways of the Pharisees and Sadducees were over

The soldiers watched from the fringes

The religious leaders were running every which way

We had our eyes on that Temple

We were ready to usher in the new Kingdom.



That wasn’t how it would go

I guess the donkey was the clue

It was a bit humble

I started to think back over everything I had heard him say

“Do good to those who persecute you”

“Blessed are the meek”

“Turn the other cheek”

“Go the extra mile”

“The first shall be last and the last shall be first”

These aren’t exactly the soundbites of a conquering King

He wasn’t about the power, the way the world knows power

He wasn’t about fighting

Or winning.

Here he was living out all those words he had preached

In the flesh

In Jerusalem

At the Passover

“Behold the Lamb Of God who takes away the sin of the world”


He was a Loser


For losers like us

This was the First 

Becoming last

So that we who were last

Could become First

Heirs of God

Joint heirs with him.


He was strong… in humility

He was powerful… in grace

He was dangerous… in love

It is so counter intuitive

So upside down

Inside out

So spiritually subversive

Culturally perverse

Socially mad.


It was all a head melt

We were thrown every which way

We were mumbling




After him

Trying to stay up close

Trying to draw way to the back.


“Follow me”

They were the first words I heard him say

And they are the last

They are the only words

“Follow me…”



A short liturgical reflection to bring us out of our informal Good Friday communion tonight in Fitzroy... and lead us very very gently towards a hope in something Jesus kept saying about "rebuilding it in three days". During communion we will play Let It Fall by Over The Rhine (give it a listen before you read...)... I have changed, blatantly stolen, from that song and even audaciously changed "confidence and grace" to "confidence IN grace"... seeking forgiveness for that for sure. 


IT IS FINISHED… Let it fall

With confident IN grace

Let us, the broken


Let us start over.


IT IS FINISHED… Let it fall… 

All the trying too hard 

And holding too tight



With confidence in grace

Let us, the broken




Let us stop caring how it ends

Feel the imprint of the ground on skin



With confidence IN grace

Let us, the broken


Let us start over

Let us pick it up again

… In three days


IT IS FINISHED - AN EASTER MEDITATION - Fitzroy Cafe Communion 2016

  Craigan Cross
photo: Neil Craigan


Discomfortable Friday

Discordant, distorted

Everything is broken and sore


Miserable Friday

Misplaced, miscarried

Everything in mourning and sorrow


Heinous Friday

Hellish and helpless

Everything hopeless and forlorn


Callous Friday

Confused and contorted

Everything abandoned and blown.


Demonic Friday

Deathly and dismal

Everything in shadows and dark.


JOHN 19 

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them

    and cast lots for my garment.”[a]

So this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[b] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Cross 16


Take me there

And let me see

The face of the innocent

With the contorted twist of pain.


Take me there

And don’t let me turn away

Don’t let me run

From the consequences

Of who I am

Reflected in the one

Who is not at all like me.


Take me there

And let me hear

The guttural words of anguish

That should never have been shrieked

From this tormented soul

“My God, my God, what have you forsaken me.”


Take me there

Let me see

Let me hear

Let me know

Let me know the truth

That the truth might set me free

Let me know that...

“It is finished.”



28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

It Is Finished 2


It is finished, but still we feel ashamed

It is finished, but still we feel unloved

It is finished, but still we feel enslaved

It is finished, but still we feel unworthy

It is finished, but still we feel inferior

It is finished, but still we feel no peace

It is finished, but still we carry on

As if He never came

As if He never died

As if He never cried

It is finished

There are no buts

There are no ifs

There are no onlys

There is no turning back

It is finished!



It is finished!



Christ Carries Cross


You're coming into town on your donkey tonight

You're coming into town on your donkey

You're coming into town on your donkey tonight

You're coming into town, coming into, yeah yeah

You'll be going out in the spirit

You're coming into town on your donkey tonight

But you'll be going out on a cross

But you'll be going out on a cross

But you'll be going out on a cross



When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?

Did they know He was the Son of God, did they know that He was Lord?

Did they hear when He told Peter, “Peter, put up your sword”?

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?



In the garden at Gethsemane

He prayed for the life he'd never live,

He beseeched his Heavenly Father to remove

The cup of death from his lips


Now there's a loss that can never be replaced,

A destination that can never be reached

A light you'll never find in another's face,

A sea whose distance cannot be breached


Well Jesus kissed his mother's hands

Whispered, "Mother, still your tears,

For remember the soul of the universe

Willed a world and it appeared



Strange way to start a revolution

Strange way to get a better tan

Strange way to hold a power breakfast

Strange way to show your business plan

Strange way to test if wood would splinter

Strange way to do performance art

Strange way to say ‘I’ll see you later’

Strange way to leave behind your heart

Strange dissident of meekness
And nurse of tangled souls
And so unlike the holy
To end up full of holes
It’s a strange way



Jesus screamed by hour nine,

Why does God forsake him?

In his mouth a bitter gall,

vinegar to slake him

Finally he gave up his ghost

The mountains disassembled

And the veils were rent in twain

The veils were rent in twain

And the whole world trembled



Were you there 

When they crucified my Lord 

Were you there 

When they crucified my Lord 

Oh, oh, oh 

Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble 

Were you there when they crucified my Lord



“We all have our problems
Some big, some are small
Soon all of our problems
Will be taken by the cross

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry for he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross”



“I want to go, to the foot of Mount Zion
To the foot of He who made me see
To the side of a hill blood was spilt
We were filled with a love
And we're going to be there again


Shout, shout, with a shout”



I heard singing of a violent, tireless mystery:

That one would give his life to save his enemy.


Your body is a bridge across an endless sea.

Your body is a bridge across an endless sea



At the wonderful tragic mysterious tree

On that beautiful scandalous night you and me

Were atoned by His blood and forever washed white

On that beautiful scandalous night



We were sons of insurrection, doomed to face the dark alone. 

'Till vicarious perfection, dearly won, was made our own.

So where's your landslide, where's your victory? 

Tell me now, where's your sting?

Unassailable you waited, the great enemy of man, 

'till your awful jaws were sated, and we were ransomed from your hand.

Now that you have been disarmed, 

We will cross over unharmed.



You did that for me

You did that for me

You wore the chains so I could be free

You did that for me


Man of sorrow

Well-acquainted with grief

Dragged to the city dump

Spread-eagle on a cross beam

Propped up like a scarecrow,

Nailed like a thief

There for all the world to see


You did that for me

You did that for me

You wore the chains so I could be free

You did that for me



Let the water flow, let the light shine 

Let the blood go through me like a river winds 

Through the valley, through the meadow 

Through my spirit and my soul just like a river goes 

Over the mountain, under the moonlight 

Let the blood go through me till I truly see the light