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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Good Friday, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 22, 2011

John 18:1 – 19:42


We've named some of the heartbreaks and burdens of our world – experiences of displacement or despair – in the face of cruel or inhumane treatment. Some heartbreak is more like losing one's heart altogether. Sometimes we might call this denial of dignity a loss of dignity.

There's a great song by Bob Dylan called "Dignity" (1989) which takes the form of a detective story or quest – a quest for grace, poise, self-respect – a lengthy search for dignity (a missing character; a murdered person) in the turmoil of a fragmented world. People jostle and hustle among themselves but show no sign of genuine community, and places are described as inhospitable and bleak. "I went into the city, went into the town,/ Went into the land of the midnight sun ..."; "I went down where the vultures feed ..."; "In the bordertowns of despair ..."; "Into the valley of dry bone dreams". All this is achieved, however, at a rollicking pace, with deftness and humour, so that the mood of the song is the opposite of bleak. The song ends in the spirit of the prophets, in the spirit of Job. "Sometimes I wonder what it's gonna take/ To find Dignity." The last line is a question ­– an echo of the psalmist's "How long, Lord?" – the last word is of a keep-on-keeping-on faith that holds on through trials and tribulations, implying that the quest will continue.

Dignity, after all, is a worthy pursuit. More worthy than Fortune or Fame, Power or Privilege. More worthy than any quest for a Holy Grail.

What Dylan does with words and music, St John does with the Passion and the figure of Jesus. The Passion story is, of course, horrendous, heartbreaking. And yet John's Jesus resists humiliation. John's Jesus (a distinctive portrait) is in control and grace-ful – even in the face of betrayal, rejection, mockery, torture – John's Jesus is noble, royal, even on the cross. It's not that Jesus is impervious to what's happening to him and around him – it's not that he's oblivious to violence. He is a picture of political engagement and self-awareness. "I was born for this, I came into the world for this; to bear witness to the truth, and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice."

What John offers is a Christ with capacity to bear heartbreaking loss as well as something else – there is more to the story than heartbreak. Jesus has given his heart to the God he calls Abba – and there is something heartwarming, deeply humane in this. Dignity, as Sr Anne (Cana Communities) suggested recently, is holding the pain AND the peace. Dignity is holding the heartbreaking loss AND the heartwarming love. In the Spirit of God, trusting in God, in a sense resting in God, Jesus embodies this Dignity. (He may even be the “Somebody” murdered in Dylan's song.)

The good news of Good Friday is that heartbreak is not the whole story. When we give our hearts to God, in Love, we are not saved from heartbreak. It may even feel sometimes that our hearts are lost. But our hearts are held safe in Love. Our hearts are held safe by God. God is the One who keeps hold of your heart.

And every trace of dignity in the world is a clue in this mystery. Whenever I am made capable of bearing pain AND peace I am a sign of this truth. Whenever you are made capable of bearing heartbreaking loss AND heartwarming love you are a sign of this truth. We are, then, “on the side of truth”, as Jesus says. We are capable of bearing dignity, with Jesus, because our hearts are held by the same God, in the one Love.

You are invited to come to the Table – to acknowledge and to revere the cross as a site of heartbreak and pain, AND to acknowledge and revere your own heart as a place of divine-human peace. You are invited to take a heart from the basket as a reminder that God holds your heart safe and dear. You are invited to claim your very own God-given dignity. Always. Amen.