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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Easter 7, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
May 17, 2015

Psalm 1; John 17:6-19

‘The budded cross’

I’ve mentioned previously my friend Philip at the Sts Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church in Newtown. I saw Philip again yesterday. There he was, outside the church on King Street, with his colourful icon stall. We talked about the icons, as usual. I was tempted to buy an icon of St George. Maybe next time. “I really like these crosses,” I said. “Yes, they are budded crosses,” Philip responded. I noticed that each of the four arms included three semi-circles or disks. “Three times four represents the 12 apostles,” Philip said. “The three buds can also symbolise the three theological virtues faith, hope and love and, of course, the Holy Trinity.” I was still taken by the name budded cross. A cross come to life. The cross of Jesus a transfigured symbol. Resurrection. The “world” in its “violence and injustice” twists trees into instruments of torture. God makes the cross to bud and bloom again, a tree of life. God be with you ...

Perhaps I noticed the budded crosses because I was thinking about Psalm 1. It’s a striking psalm, the central image a “fruitful evergreen on the banks of a stream”. A tree of life the image is associated with happiness, nonviolence, delight in God’s word, and justice. From a Christian point of view, the tree is the budded cross, the tree of life, Jesus himself.

Psalm 1, as the very first psalm, lays a foundation for the songs that follow. The entire book of psalms the song collection or album is concerned with happiness, nonviolence, delight in God’s word, and justice. The songs, as a whole, express the struggle to discern what is good or wise over that which is evil or foolish. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, no stranger to the struggle, taught his student pastors to imagine Jesus praying the psalms alongside them.

As songs we might also imagine Jesus playing or singing alongside us.

Our Gospel is, indeed, about Jesus praying with and for us a person facing “a crucifying force” an imminent execution yet concerned for his friends, for joy in their lives and even for the “world” into which he/they/we are sent as holy ones or saints the “world” that even yet “may believe”. At this terrifying point in the story we are given to see Jesus praying for others. “I consecrate myself now for their sakes ...”

There are several references to the “word” (more than a “message”) Jesus shares. This word has to do with resisting evil, with joyful and truthful living.

I think again of the psalm of the singer who delights in the word. We can resist evil, we can overcome violence and injustice by the power of a delightful word an enjoyable word, a creative word. We can endure meaninglessness by the power of a word that invites new meaning. Other meanings turn our hearts, minds and hands toward others.

I recall the playful scholarship of our Thursday night Bible studies. Enjoying the word. Allowing the word to lead us into unfamiliar and ambiguous realms: Marian devotions; contemporary executions; parents and children estranged, reunited; dreams turned to trauma politically, sexually, economically, ecologically; names; religious orders; pop songs and ancient mythologies. A small group gathered in the name of Jesus, caught up with Mary the songwriting mother of Jesus, Paul McCartney, Colm Toibin, Artemis, Mary MacKillop and others. Each other. Each of us, like Mary, preparing “to give birth and to nurture” ... Each of us, like Mary, “knowing that words matter” ...

The words, the word, has to do with resisting evil, with joyful and truthful living. I see the words, the word, like the stream, the flowing waters, beside which grow the trees, the tree, fruitful and evergreen. The story of God is like a stream creative, life-giving, flowing. “Study it always,” the psalmist says. Learn it, tell it, retell it, drink it in, appropriate it for yourselves, delight in it ...

The creative word the story of God, the story of Jesus and his friends is not so much a “message” as an affirmation, a promise ... grace.

Earlier this month some of us had the opportunity to attend the 40th anniversary celebrations in Redfern Park for the Cana Communities. I can’t think of a better example of what I’m trying to say about budded crosses and creative words joyful and truthful living the ongoing, flowing story of Jesus and his friends promise and grace.

When Dorothy read the Gospel from John 2, the miracle at Cana, of water turned to wine, I heard it very differently. Perhaps in the context of a certain mayhem and happiness, I saw that Jesus did not take the credit for the miracle. He allowed the wedding guests to praise the groom for the good wine. The wait staff and Mary say nothing either. Jesus does what he does for somebody else, in honour of somebody else. There is new meaning and the new meaning has to do with the other, in this case a groom at risk of failing a test of hospitality.

Drawing from the stream, the story of water into wine, we are offered refreshment and enjoyment. Jesus prays and plays alongside us. Our crosses (terrifying, scarifying) may become budded crosses.

There are other meanings to the budded cross. The symbol is an appropriation of a Celtic symbol for the three domains of earth, sky and sea. The children are creating their own tree symbols that will be placed on the altar according to their own understanding of resisting evil, of joyful and truthful living.

Let us pray, with Jesus, for them, for the world, for others ...

Let’s give thanks for the word of God the story of God in which we delight, and by which we grow, stand tall and bear fruit ...

Is there a word a story of God (from the scriptures or from your own experiences) you’re inspired to retell today? You’re invited to come to the altar-table and to place a stone in the “stream”Amen.