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.