From 1968 to 1998 Northern Ireland was embroiled in a period of conflict known as the Troubles, during which violence in the streets was commonplace. On one side of the conflict was the unionist, loyalist, and overwhelmingly Protestant majority, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom. On the other side was the nationalist, republican, almost exclusively Catholic minority, who wanted Northern Ireland to become part of the Republic of Ireland. A nationalist Catholic protest against institutionalized discrimination on October 5, 1968, that was countered with violence is what sparked the thirty-year guerrilla war, resulting in the deaths of over 3,500 people, mostly civilians. Killings were perpetrated on both sides, each of which had its own paramilitary organizations launching armed campaigns.
First Lisburn Presbyterian Church in County Antrim is one of many churches that suffered damage during the conflict when on August 5, 1981, a car bomb planted by the Irish Republican Army exploded in Market Street. The explosion left the church’s roof, plasterwork, balcony, organ, and windows in need of serious repair. (Thankfully, though, there were no fatalities.)
Church member Norah Boyle describes the congregation’s reaction:
Arriving on the scene early, as I thought, I had already been preceded by a small army of workers from the congregation who, without prior organising, had heard of the damage and raced to the church, many complete with buckets, brooms, mops and other cleaning materials. Some just stood in a state of shocked disbelief at the sight before them; some wept; others reacted to the shock in a burst of physical activity, first to clear the rubble away and search for any stained glass pieces, yes, even those pieces embedded in the pews and other woodwork. Totally impervious to the danger of further falling plaster, woodwork or masonry they worked on, clearing, cleaning, dusting, polishing. . . .
I could not possibly have witnessed the scenes that I did and the reaction to them by the congregation without having my faith in God and my love for First Lisburn deepened.
As a witness to its hope for peace in Northern Ireland, First Lisburn decided to remain in its location and rebuild. One of the major questions it faced in this process was what to do with the seventeen windows that had been blasted—whether to restore their former pictorial designs or to create new ones. The property committee decided to honor the church’s heritage by having artists recreate the previous designs, except for one of the clear-glass windows on the balcony, which they commissioned the famous studio James Watson & Son to reinvent in stained glass on the theme of resurrection.
Called the Resurrection Window, it’s made almost entirely of shards that were blown out of the original windows. The plaque at its base reads,
This window is a memorial of the bomb-blast of 5th August 1981 and the subsequent restoration of our church and halls. It is a tribute to our neighbours in shops and offices and their will to overcome disaster. It is an echo of the motto of this town: “EX IGNE RESURGAM” (I will arise from the fire). It is a witness to our faith in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lisburn.com provides helpful commentary:
In the centre is the orb of the earth, surrounded by the red of human suffering, injury, sin and sorrow. But overcoming this are startling shafts of light radiating outwards like a great cosmic explosion. This symbolises the Resurrection of our Lord recapitulated in the spirit of the congregation, town and province rising from the ashes of destruction. Around it all are woven palm branches of victory and of peace. Here and there small triangles of light may be seen as splinters of flying glass or the tongues of fire of the Holy Spirit.
Almost all of this new window is constructed from fragments of the old windows which could not otherwise be re-used. It is the congregation’s memorial of a past event and a proclamation of their faith in the victory of righteousness, love and life itself over the powers of darkness and of death.
The Resurrection Window of First Lisburn is a shining example of resurrection in practice. Driven by a belief in life after hurt and a commitment to peace and reconciliation, the church community of 1981 gathered together in the rubble of a terrorist act to sweep clean its place of worship and ready it for repairs. As they salvaged the fragments of broken glass, they didn’t know whether anything could be done with them, but six years later an artist found a use, recycling the devastation into beauty. An irradiating spiral alludes to the explosion from Lisburn’s past but also to a different kind of explosion: the explosion of God’s resurrection power, which is still active in restoring broken people, places, and systems to wholeness.
Although a peace agreement was signed by both factions of the Northern Ireland conflict in 1998, sporadic violence continues, and old wounds have not healed.
May the same power that raised Christ from the dead raise Northern Ireland—and us all—from sectarian strife.