On Sunday 6th September I attended the Annual Eccumenical Service for Kilmainham Gaol in St. Werburgh's Church. The Sermon delivered by Archdeacon David Pierpoint was inspiring and is certainly worth publishing. I include the full text of his sermon below.
Today, here in St Werburgh's Church, we gather in the context of Christ’s Last Supper to remember and give thanks for those who believed that what they were doing was right for the cause of justice and Irish freedom acknowledging the fact that all who suffered incarceration and death in Kilmainham Gaol were in their day, men of high ideals and principles.
This building is dedicated in honour of Jesus Christ who was always ready to side with the down-trodden and marginalised, as well as people, respected in the community. He was always much more interested in the one lost sheep than in the ninety-nine in their cosy places. It was Christ who said to the leaders of the community in his day, when they were about to stone a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery, “Let those who are without sin, cast the first stone”.
In many ways, the people we remember today were similar in that they wanted freedom from those whom they considered the oppressor. But not only freedom, but justice and peace. And this morning’s service is not a memorial for them, but rather a time of ecumenism and peace. And it is that peace and unity which I would like to address this morning.
Throughout the years, many songs have been written and performed about peace. Well I want to remind you all that we don’t build peace just by singing about it - or carrying flowers in a precession,- or lighting candles or floating away in a haze of drugs or alcohol. Peace is made of greater things than these. It is only really born out of great cost, the cost of discipleship and sacrifice.
Martin Luther King, shot by an assassin’s bullet in Memphis, Tennessee. Dietrich Bonhoffer, hung on the gallows in Hitler’s concentration camp at Flossenburg. Mother Teresa, who slaved away among the poor in the slums of Calcutta. They all gave peace a chance, but it cost them. They all had to give so much of themselves in order to achieve their goals.
The people we remember today did not give their lives for peace. They had them snatched away from them on the gallows or by firing squad in Kilmainham Gaol or outside our sister church of St Catherine’s in Thomas Street. Those executions reminds us of the senselessness of violence - and I don’t just mean murder or terrorism, but the violence of beaurocrats, of governments and those who use wealth, politics or religion to get the better of other people. But if we are helped to see the destruction of the misuse of power whenever and wherever it is misused, then that gallows in 1798 or any subsequent death in prison was not totally without meaning.
It is strange that the central symbol of the Christian faith should be the cross - itself, an instrument of violence. It might just as well have been the gallows, the firing squad, the electric chair, a lethal injection or some other form of capital punishment. But, Jesus took the cross on himself, willingly and with eyes open. He knew that to give peace a chance was worth everything - even the sacrifice of his life.
Here in St Werburgh’s Church, which is a sad sight in its present condition of disrepair and indeed is in danger of closing due to health and Safety issues, this Church and many other churches in this wonderful city of ours has seen its parishioners die for what they believed in. Some are recorded on plaques and memorials while others remain unknown. Some are notable for their part in the fight for the freedom of our land like Robert Emmet who was originally buried in the graveyard of our sister church of St Michan but whose body was removed and now lies in some unknown place. We remember John and Henry Sheares whose bodies rest in the vaults of St Michan's. Of Oliver Bond, the son of a Unitarian minister from Derry, who like the Sheares brothers is buried in the graveyard of St Michan's. He was one of the first members of the Dublin branch of the Society of United Irishmen who first met in the Eagle Tavern just around the corner from here in Exchequer Street in 1791. Found guilty of treason, he was sentenced to death by hanging but died in mysterious circumstances in Newgate jail before the sentence could be carried out. Dr Charles Lucas founder of the Freeman's Journal is also buried in the graveyard of St Michan's.
Among the many other Irishmen who died was one Napper Tandy. A Dublin Politician, volunteer and leader of the United Irishmen. The bell in the centre of the aisle bears his name.
Then of course we think of Edward Fitzgerald whose life and death is well chronicled and who lies in the vaults under this church, where just above him in the graveyard is the grave of his assassin, Town Major, Sirr.
All who down the centuries have died for the cause of peace and freedom knew themselves that to be implicated in something treacherous might mean their lives, and while not wanting to die, they were not prepared to give up on their principles. They knew the consequences but were undeterred in their actions and words. As Christians in today’s society, we too must remain constant in our efforts for peace throughout the world and on this island. It will demand great courage, and possibly even ridicule by some, but if we are steadfast in our principles, then I believe that peace will be given a chance and by our words and deeds we might have a small part to play in its continuance.
When we look at each other, we see different traditions and histories. Nothing can alter or change the past. The only thing which will bring the churches, despite differences in worship and governance - to the unity which is God’s will, is if all Christians become close to Christ. The closer we get to Him, the nearer we will find ourselves to one another.
If we as fellow Christians accept the inheritance which Christ left us all, we should have peace in our lives, our homes and with our neighbours of every denomination or none. Something which I feel certain those whom we remember today would have wished if they had lived. I hope and pray that as we move forward, we can carry out the wishes and prayers of Christians throughout history and achieve peace and unity among all people.