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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter Sunday, Year A
South Sydney Uniting Church
April 24, 2011

Psalm 118:1-2,14-24; John 20:1-18

Community of Resurrection’

“The believing community manifests the risen Christ: it does not simply talk about him, or even ‘celebrate’ him. It is the place where he is shown” (Rowan Williams, “Communities of Resurrection”).

Mary of Magdala, Simon Peter, the beloved disciple, the “brothers and sisters” – our Gospel is about the community, the place where the risen Christ is shown. The showing takes place, first, in a garden. How apt, then, that our Easter Candle comprises a stand that is a gift of our Eden gardeners. How apt, that our Candle was lit last night in the warm fires of inter-church friendship and commemoration of the life, death and witness of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Salvadorans Juan and Giovanni spoke of love for their small Latin American nation (one-fortieth the size of NSW) and the Saviour after whom it is named – El Salvador.

There can be a tendency to over-psychologise the resurrection. There can be a tendency to over-emphasise one’s experience of the risen Christ as a personal event, an inner event. “Don’t hold on to me”, the risen Saviour says to Mary. It is personal, yet personal experience begins (again and again) in relation to others – in respect of tradition, language and stories, rituals, expectations, conversations. My experience of the risen Christ is grounded in centuries of Jewish and Christian hopes and struggles, dreams and failures and celebrations of new life. On my own, faith in the resurrection is a very tenuous thing – fragile, fleeting. I feel something like conviction – sometimes obstinate, proud, vain, lazy. I feel the absurdity of it, the improbability of it.

If resurrection is about a love that survives death, I am led to a place of love that I might better apprehend it. I am led to the believing community – to the Church.

A while back we had some work done to repair a leaky roof and damaged walls here. The plasterer applied what is called “sacrificial plaster” and I assured Alana that this was the substance of a soon-to-be preached homily. It’s taken some time (more than two years), but it seems today that sacrificial plaster has something to say to us – all of us – about resurrection.

Sacrificial plaster refers to a soft plaster applied to water-damaged walls. Sacrificial plaster is applied to draw out corrosive salts and moisture from damp brickwork. Sacrificial plaster falls to the floor where it is then vacuumed away (sacrificed). The sacrificial plaster, we might say, is no longer seen. What is seen are the dry and salt-free (though pitted and mottled) walls. The original plan was to quickly re-plaster and paint, but problems with a leaky roof and gutter were protracted and many people mentioned how much they liked the discoloured and imperfect surface.

We might say, by analogy, that Christ draws out corrosive salts, moisture and mould from our common life – prejudice, racism, impatience, hostility, selfishness, small-mindedness – that Christ does this simply by loving unto death, by exercising a ministry, as Oscar Romero learns to exercise a ministry, for everyone. This Christ is (ever) a scandal, an affront to our entitlements, our competitive desires, our selfish ambitions. This Christ is eliminated, “disappeared”. This Christ is no longer seen.

What is seen (in the Spirit of resurrection) is the people of God repaired, reconstructed; the Church reformed, renewed – the opening of a space for forgiveness and nonviolence, resistance, courage, hospitality and joy – spontaneous, uninhibited joy.

We see scarred and discoloured walls reminding us of our woundedness and mortality; marking for us a space of healing.

We see imperfectly rendered walls, soft and porous, a symbol of Christian community in which imperfections are accepted and forgiven, in which life is porous – allowing the light of wisdom from without, allowing fresh air for creativity within – allowing individuals (and their personal experiences and convictions) the freedom to come and go, the freedom to change and grow.

We see the Church as a God-given community of resurrection – not just the walls, of course, but the people with their scars and imperfections, repairing and reforming, their faces set on life and love, and justice – an “uprightness”, to cite the psalmist, which is an altogether different and unpredictable existence – a gift.

“Only a penitent Church can manifest forgiven-ness … A merely critical Church can reproduce in horrifying forms precisely those oppressive and exclusive relations which it exists to judge. It will pass sentence upon those beyond its boundaries, and so will be concerned about those boundaries and their exact definition …”

We see a porous community in which not guilt but conversion is valued and sought … converted action … “The Church … addresses itself to all human violence, in all human beings. If it is to be itself, it has no option but to live in penitence, in critical self-awareness and acknowledgement of failure. It must recognize constantly its failing as a community to be a community of gift and mutuality …” (Rowan Williams).

We see a porous community in which “… no one’s failure is theirs alone, and … no failure can put an end to the relation of mutual gift that is the ground of the community’s life” (Rowan Williams). Prophecy which flows from such a place is authentically a form of non-violent resistance: “non-violent, because it does not aim simply to identify and locate blame so that it can condemn, exclude and disparage; but resistance because it speaks of a drastic refusal of certain styles of [abusive, destructive] individual and corporate life …” (Rowan Williams).

Last night when he introduced the screening of Romero, Juan recounted that the Archbishop set up an office in the cathedral, with legal professionals, staff and resources to provide a disempowered and persecuted people with information, with access to the truth of their political situation. It struck me that we have very similar opportunities to make Church resources available that all might access information pertinent to their lives. That in and through commitments to journalism, activism and the arts, hospitality and care for creation, we might help to make information, food, shelter, accessible; that we might help to foster and affirm a sense of vocation and dignity in those most disempowered by a cut-throat culture.

I saw the Church anew as a place of protest, safety, inquiry, mutual service, truth-telling. I saw that the walls of the Church were scarred by bullets and stained by blood.

I heard anew the call of God in Christ the Saviour to protect the most vulnerable. I heard, in the Spirit of Romero’s witness to Christ the Shepherd, that our task is not to help “run the country” but to “prevent the suffering and killing” of the people entrusted to our care.

I heard anew the profession of Easter faith. “My life has been threatened many times. I have to confess that as a Christian, I don’t believe in death without resurrection. If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people. I’m not boasting or saying this out of pride, but rather as humbly as I can.” Amen.