O God, our God, where shall we find the words, the hope, to speak in these days?
Hear us in our silence, in our cries and confusion, in our groaning.
In our need.
Our lives have been washed away, jobs and lounge rooms, treasures and forgettables, the roads and paths we know.
We begin, our God, with you, your promises, your love.
We choose to trust you, even when everything we know has shifted, including the ground on which we stand.
Even in this paddock, shadowed by death and brokenness, we choose to believe your promises: that you love us, that you are with us, that you will never leave us.
In this most fragile of moments, you are with us for every step and stumble.
We see the face of Christ in each and every neighbour; in the couple who rescued us, in that woman offering us food in the evac centre, in that bloke sitting, unsure, outside the home he has lost.
Each time we turn, your presence is clear.
We will be angry later, and impatient. We will need you then.
But now, O God, our God, bring us healing, bring us comfort, bring us courage, bring us strength, and, we implore you, bring us the occasional moment of joy, the snort, or shout, of laughter, the stuff of life.
As these days move on, as we clean up, and rebuild and wait, help us to measure out these days in mercy, in forgiveness, in community.
O God, our God, for our friends and congregations of hope, we thank you.
Through Christ, the Crucified and Risen One. Amen.
As Australia finally opens up completely, both to itself and to the rest of the world, we can reflect on two years of lines drawn on a map, of disease-driven demarcation, and consider what has happened, and what uncertainty remains in residue.
I have walked the emptied offices and shops in Sydney’s CBD, sponsored by sound health policy and amplified by fear. As people trickle back into the city, we wonder what is next. Confidence is yet to return alongside the workers; small businesses wait, hesitant and unsure.
We gather in worship and concerts (unmasked and excited) and test the distances between, not quite sure whether to shake hands, to nod and smile, or to embrace. My wife and I danced and clapped and sang with all our might at an outdoor performance recently. Part of our exhilaration was simply to be amongst full-faced people elated around us, even with the uncertainty of everything.
We know the wonder of being together, of contact, of connection. Introverts and extraverts alike have missed being in the room, around the table, gathered in relationship. The famished embraces of families at the airport echo in every one of us.
In our next breath we watch as people strive to find difference, to define and divide our communities. Election campaigns always bring this on, we are told, once more.
So our faith, or our identity, or our gender, or our fear become focal points for political exploitation and the connection for which we long becomes slightly more arbitrary. Someone finds a hairline crack and stamps their boot.
The ash of Wednesday’s cross has barely been wiped from our foreheads and we watch our friends trapped in a flooding disaster on our state’s north coast and Russia trampling war into Ukraine. So much invested in blaming others, in finding enemies; people to accuse, or punish, or ignore.
This story is not new; it is as old as sin itself. A colleague of mine speaks of “powers and principalities” which are invested solely in themselves and whisper temptations to power, to the distractions of bread and circuses. They are woven in our culture and use voices that we know, sometimes even our own.
In this season, of all seasons, we must be able to proclaim mercy and justice, the essential hope so many find, and have found, in Jesus Christ.
What song of life have we to sing to which people may want to dance, even with exhilaration?
Of what hope might we speak that offers an embrace and not the pointed finger of accusation and blame?
In a world which seeks to accuse others and create enemies, in order to distract from responsibility, our discipleship calls us to seek out our enemies in order to forgive them. The credibility of our proclamation is found in the integrity of our ministry, not in the beauty of our sanctuaries, or in the reputations of the past.
In a recent commercial radio interview about the floods, the journalist was astonished at the work of our Disaster Chaplains, sitting with people in their worst moments. They know that there is no easy solution to be offered, but the integrity of their presence, weeping with those who weep.
The crucified Christ stands at the heart of our faith. Jesus, on the cross, is the marker of difference who embraces all those who are wounded. His embrace is indeed even wider, offered for those who create the wounds. In his final hours, the actions of Christ are to welcome a criminal and to seek forgiveness for those who nailed him there.
In a time of Putin’s atrocity in Ukraine, in political blame-casting, in our world where people’s lives are valued in votes, or financial balance sheets, this is the word our world most needs to hear, and to hold.
Not revenge, but mercy.
When a preacher, or a politician, speaks of sin and forgiveness too quickly and too easily, check your wallet.
The forgiveness which is found on the cross is neither an exchange of contract, nor a bargain struck. It is never “a form of words”. It is the deliberate, compassionate act of God to restore the creation and all within it, and requires everything of God, even life. It is the entire solidarity of God with us, in uttermost suffering and injustice.
The silence of the tomb echoes the impact of God’s engagement with us. Forgiveness is costly and borne in love.
The wonder of Christ’s resurrection is the assurance that the story of death which haunts our world is not the most powerful word spoken. Life is stronger than death’s demarcation. It is God, in Christ, making us entirely whole, and entirely welcome.
It is from this hope that I write. It is from this hope, found in one we name as crucified and risen, that we discover life.
Receive this cross of ash upon your brow, Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross. The forests of the world are burning now And you make late repentance for the loss. But all the trees of God would clap their hands The very stones themselves would shout and sing If you could covenant to love these lands And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.
He sees the slow destruction of those trees, He weeps to see the ancient places burn, And still you make what purchases you please, And still to dust and ashes you return. But Hope could rise from ashes even now Beginning with this sign upon your brow.