Homily for the Closing Liturgy of the Synod - 4th May 2003
In his book “Christ and the Victory of God”, Anglican Bishop Thomas Wright said that Christians need to develop a symbolic imagination if they wish to understand Christ who during his life acted symbolically. Newer Australians, in contract with our older Indigenous brothers and sisters don’t easily think symbolically, but nevertheless on our Synod journey and here again in this gathering place we have been surrounded by symbols. (I believe I should mention that in this year the Archdiocese is celebrating our first great symbolic act of worship, the Mass, celebrated with the Aboriginal people of Stradbroke Island by Archbishop Polding and the Passionist Fathers 160 years ago.) In our midst the Synod candle, symbol of Christ, the light of the world, lit from the paschal candle in the Cathedral, has been burning brightly throughout all our discussions. It rests upon a large clay jar that at the Cathedral was filled with water as a reminder of our baptismal life in Christ that we are privileged to share, a symbol that is reinforced by the marvellous dancing and creation images on the banners and booklets that we are able to view in this hall. I’m sure you can also remember the small clay jars handed out at the Cathedral (it seems a thousand years ago now) when we began our journey to the Synod. Thoroughly biblical, seemingly a little strange for some, but nevertheless reminding us of our fragility and nobility as children of God, the jars were taken back and placed within our parishes as a reminder of the forthcoming Synod that has happened here over the last three days. So our symbols have gradually changed, but the most important change has not been in the symbols so much as in ourselves. Like the first people of God, we too have been people on a journey, being moulded and shaped by what seemed like a never ending process of discussion groups, planning groups, communications groups, reading groups, writing groups, liturgy groups, prayer gatherings, Cathedral visits, Liturgies, Preparation Days, choir practice, liturgy practice, not to mention the two Preparation Days here at Clairvaux Mackillop College. Nevertheless in the midst of all that activity God’s Holy Spirit was at work. We arrived almost like wandering strangers, but ever so slowly we became a community familiar with each other, and unified by the realisation that we are brothers and sisters in the one body of Christ. In the midst of all that seeming chaos the Spirit of God was at work, trying to create order whilst at the same time seeking to enter our lives and draw us all a little closer to God’s vision for each one of us. Over these last three days many people inspired us, none more powerfully than the young people who addressed our gathering today, as did also the manifold Archdiocesan Kingdom activity that we learned about in the strangely sounding BAPs (not bats). We realised almost for the first time how much good is being done in the Archdiocese, often unrecognised and unacknowledged. At the same time we realised the challenge that still lies ahead. The Rev Alan Kuchler, the Moderator of the Uniting Church, who brought us that marvellously warm greeting in the Cathedral on the occasion of our Opening Mass, said to me afterwards “you know it is easy to be cynical about Synods, and perhaps they never achieve as much as we would like, but the great blessing of the Synod is that it is always brings people of faith together for their mutual benefit and that of the larger Church”. Our gathering here certainly deepened my faith and I hope it has done the same for you. At this Synod we have been largely engaged in the first two realities that we identified in Christ’s vision, namely Christ himself and the communion of the Church. Now we are faced with the stark reality of Mission and it is always a little bit challenging and frightening. Here in the Synod we have given those earlier realities of Christ’s life our close examination, now with the help of God’s Holy Spirit we will seek to address the third aspect of Christ’s life namely his Mission by implementing the recommendations that we have drawn up from this Synod. Today the short compact scripture reading from Gospel of John tries to help us in that regard:
1) In the first place it assures us that all of us are chosen by Christ. Christ indicates in the Scripture we have not chosen Him but He has chosen us. He did so and we have responded through the power of the Holy Spirit. That may make all of us feel quite marvellous until we realise that Judas was also chosen, and initially responded. The challenge for us is that we just can’t respond once in our lives, but we need the help of God’s Spirit to keep on responding. Judas is always there to remind us of what may happen if we don’t respond. Like Judas, sometimes in our lives we too may recognise the fact that we have stopped responding, and yet the important thing is that we should never lose hope as Judas did, but continue to work on our faith with Prayer, Liturgy, Spiritual Reading and Christian Action. God has chosen us, so let us rejoice in his choice but let us never take it for granted. I must admit I have a soft spot for Judas and I hope that one day I will be able to meet him to hear the full story of his life but I am not sure where I should go to do that, but I am sure that wherever it is it will be interesting.
2) In the Scripture Christ then tells us that faith is not merely a privilege. It also brings responsibility. He now wants us to “go out and bear fruit, fruit that will last”. Unlike the man blessed with talents in another Gospel story faith is not meant to be buried. It must be used to promote the reign of God and such response will vary from person to person. For one, it may mean deciding to become a Special Minister of the Eucharist, for another talking to the lonely person at the end of the street, for another making ethical investments, for another protesting about war or abortion, for another making an impact in business or politics. We are all called to work in the Kingdom according to our different talents. So let us do that.
3) Christ also comforts us by assuring us that in all our endeavours God walks beside us and we need to recognise this in our prayer “whatever you ask the Father in my name He will give you”. As one, who at the tender age of seven in Stanthorpe prayed unceasingly for a pony that never arrived, and who at sixty-six prayed for rain in the same town which arrived only after Archbishop Phillip Aspinall had made the same request, I realise there must be certain pre-conditions attached to Christ’s guarantee. The first condition must be that my request should promote the reign of God, and in that regard I am not always good at discerning that direction. Nevertheless the prayer of the Kingdom, The Our Father is always a safe prayer to say and as a result it is a favourite prayer of mine as we strain forward asking for the coming of God’s Kingdom “May your Kingdom come, may Your will be done”.
4) Finally we are commanded, and please note the word “commanded”, to love “one another”. That is the very hardest thing Christians are ever asked to do. Sartre, the French Philosopher, said that “hell is other people”. Most would not agree with him but sometimes we may feel that there is a great deal of truth in what he said. I try to see the presence of the Kingdom of God by identifying each and every person as my brother and sister in the one family of God. Sadly it is all too easy. Loving other people is the hard part: the communication with others, the forgiveness of others, the practising of kindness to others, the generosity to others, the commitment to others, the standing up for others, the caring for others, and all of those different actions are the difficult parts of loving each and every person. But we must work at it if we really believe that we are followers of Christ.
Tonight as we move towards the end of this Liturgy can I say that it has been good to be with you here over these last three days of Synod. Thank you for your friendship, your welcome, your humour, your table fellowship, your challenges, your honesty, your wake-up exercises here in the hall, your intelligence, but most of all your faith. I believe that I am a better person for being in your midst. Could I thank in a special way the Priests who have made heroic efforts to be here over these last three days. For that I am truly thankful, as I am sure we are all thankful and I would invite you to show your appreciation of their presence here during this time. We started with symbols, so let us finish with another symbol, a simple one, one that is well-known to all of us and one that emphasises what has happened here over these past few days. In the light of Christ’s command to love, and our willingness to try to obey him, could we now reach out to one another with the sign of peace and friendship.