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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter Sunday, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 4, 2010

Luke 24:1-12

Forgiveness has risen from the grave’

My television viewing is restricted to programs on Channel 9 – my reception impaired by an aerial blown out of position by the wind a while back. So, I hope you’ll forgive this homily its commercial TV basis. Today’s homily is called ‘Forgiveness has risen from the grave’ [also a line from the fourth-century Easter homily of St John Chrysostom].

The other night I was watching, with one eye (the other on the lap-top screen), the police drama, Cold Case. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about a detective, Lily Rush, and her efforts at solving old, cold criminal cases. The world of Cold Case is peopled by victims of crimes unsolved, the dead and their long-suffering loved ones; and long-suffering perpetrators, numb or frightened, usually stunted in some way, often relieved to be caught out. The world of Cold Case is very much like our own, in the words of Archbishop Rowan Williams, “a world of dead souls, victim and oppressor alike”.

That is, we are all, in some sense, victims and oppressors – wounded and wounding people. We try to enact justice, but always imperfectly. We apportion blame, hold grudges, stake out the high moral ground. We punish and avenge wrongs committed against us; we regret the wrongs we ourselves commit – regret them, or repress them. Our best efforts at justice breed resentment.

The tradition calls this predicament Original Sin – that is, we are all born into an already damaged and damaging culture. And we struggle in vain to disentangle ourselves from prejudice and injustice, classism and sexism, and so on.

We also long to be loved – wholly loved, for who we really are. Sins and all. Williams makes the point that were we to see the whole truth about ourselves we would not be able to face it.

Unless, that is, our victim were also a saviour. The power of the Resurrection, he says, is the power of the victim, our victim, to forgive. In a violent world, God appears as the victim who refuses to inflict violence – the victim who refuses to imprison or to punish or to return fire for fire. That’s how God appears, that’s how God reveals Godself – in the flesh, as the victim of our fears and hatreds. And the risen Christ judges in the power of a love that forgives our fears and hatreds, exposing them and covering them with love. The risen Christ judges in the power of a love “who waits on our love”.

What I draw from this is that the Resurrection is most keenly felt by us when we experience the forgiveness of the one in whose downfall, destruction or death we ourselves have colluded. God’s forgiveness comes by way of the human face of Christ – in spite of death, in spite of the death I have dealt another. Peter the timid, the fantasist, the betrayer, is raised to new life – in a moment of amazement.

In the episode of
Cold Case I was half-watching, Lily is having personal problems. Long unresolved issues with her mother have surfaced in the sudden event of her mother’s coming to visit. Lily’s mother is an alcoholic, and we learn that this had contributed to the breakdown of her marriage, the breaking apart of the family home, and to Lily’s displacement, estrangement. A couple of scenes I caught showed Lily angry and pleading with her mother to give up the drink … or else. The situation seemed hopeless. Mother and daughter shouted accusations – each confessing woundedness. Raw scenes. A world of dead souls, victim and oppressor alike.

And then I caught a scene showing Lily with tears and pleading with her mother, taking her by the arm: “I don’t care if you’re drinking … Stay with me.” The thought of losing touch with her mother, again, the reality of her mother’s addiction and consequent illness, too much to bear.
Stay with me, anyway.

The words transcend the vicious context of blame and fantasy. They do not deny the pain of the past, but offer restoration – more to the point: a freedom, a space for another to be, to become, to live. Grace, like hope, takes unfamiliar shapes in a world of dead souls. Rowan Williams draws this lesson from the Easter Gospel: “Life is constantly capable of being opened to God’s creative grace.”

One final scene from
Cold Case. Mother and daughter sit for a few minutes and recall sharing a story – Lily’s favourite book as a child, The Velveteen Rabbit. It’s the story of a toy rabbit loved so that it became a real rabbit. “That bunny just kept coming back,” said Lily’s mother. “You wanted me to read you that story every night, so many times … And that bunny just kept coming back.” This was to be the last conversation between Lily and her mum, who passed away that very night.

Lily’s face was the face of Christ for her mother in that scene. Her mother, past and present, recovered and called forward in hope. It’s a strange hope, yes. Strangely particular, concrete, personal. And none the weaker for that.

Another commentator writes, perhaps with an eye to our Resurrection Icon – also called the Harrowing or Destruction of Hell (the risen Christ grasping the hands of Adam and Eve, that is all humanity, as he rises, death’s doors shattered beneath their feet): “This is what resurrection faith is all about … It is a radical trust in the God who keeps coming back when everything seems lost. A willingness in the face of overwhelming odds … to entrust ourselves to the ways of life and love …” (Nathan Nettleton).

In Lent we touched on a movement from victimhood to vulnerability. We can now better appreciate our dependence on the Christ who calls us to such, the Christ who calls us from beyond this world of dead souls to a vulnerability that is life-giving, that is real. Like that velveteen rabbit
we are all, each of us, loved towards the real. And like Lily, whose name is an ancient symbol of resurrection, we are called to share in the life of God whose judgement is love, always love.

Perhaps the homily today may be completed in the silence of our hearts. This Easter Day, whose face bears for you the forgiveness of the Christ who has endured and overcome this world of dead souls, victims and oppressors alike? Where have you seen such a transcendent and forgiving face? When have you heard such a transcendent and forgiving voice? …