A sermon given on the Sunday after Ascension Day, at the 8am BCP Eucharist and 10.30am Choral Eucharist by The Reverend Dr Lynn Arnold AO, Honorary Assistant Priest, on Reconciliation

Coming home through reconciliation

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be worthy in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Once more we are in National Reconciliation Week, an annual event held since 1996, the year when the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established. But the idea of a week-long reflection on themes of reconciliation had started three years earlier when major faith communities in Australia had supported the idea of a Week of Prayer for Reconciliation which had been proposed as part of the 1993 International Year of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Each year since then, events have been held around the country examining various issues around the theme of reconciliation, including progress made – or not – over the preceding years. I encourage you to go to the website (www.nrw.reconciliation.org.au ) to see what events are taking place this year in that regard. But this morning I want to reflect back on the founding idea of a Week of Prayer for Reconciliation which started this event. Let me start then with what Reconciliation means for us in faith terms. We know well the words of 2 Cor 5:18-19:

Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

‘Christ reconciling the world to himself’ – those words have the suggestion of Christ inviting us to come home, his home. Indeed, one of Christ’s best-known parables – the Prodigal Son – is an intense message of reconciliation through the metaphor of having left and then returning home. Of course, that was a parable, but Christ said it to remind us of humanity’s cosmic home-leaving which God, through the incarnation of his Son, enabled to become a holy home-coming. Our Scriptures start with the departure from the Garden of Eden, the expulsion from God’s metaphorical home on earth; and they finish with a home-coming into the new Jerusalem. Just as the prodigal son was reconciled to his father in a home-coming, so too the whole of Scripture invites us to be reconciled with God and thus go home to Him.

This is not a going back home, but a going home; the author Ursula le Guin put it succinctly when she wrote:

You can go home … so long as you understand that home is a place you have never been.

So it is that we need to understand that a reconciling home-coming would bring us to a different place from that from where we had departed. The Book of Revelation tells us that humanity, being invited by Christ to come home, will encounter a new Jerusalem not the Garden of Eden of Genesis. Even the prodigal son came back to a home different to that from which he had set out – different because he had left a home defined by himself with a flawed set of perceptions in terms of relationships and values but returned to one where he discovered the real relationships and values as expressed by his father.     

Thus, the call for us to be reconciled requires we understand that the place we seek should be different from the one we left. A frequently used phrase at the end of Kaurna welcomes and acknowledgments goes:

Marni nao budni yaintya yertangga, bilyonirna yertangga.

May we walk together in harmony, in a spirit of reconciliation.

Here a spirit of reconciliation presumes and empowers a journeying from one place to a better one. In other words, reconciliation should not be about seeking an accommodation with existing circumstance, but a moving on from it.

Besides the need to embark on a pilgrimage to a better place, we need also to explore further the idea that there is to be a ‘walking together’. In our gospel reading this morning we heard the words of Jesus: ‘My prayer is … that all of them may be one.’ So, is our walking together to bring us together as one? In a sense, yes; but, in another, no.

Last Thursday we had the service for Ascension Day, when we prayed:

Send us forth to the ends of the earth as heralds of repentance and witnesses of Jesus Christ … in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

In this Reconciliation Week, these words from that prayer should have acute significance for us. It asks us to think about of what we should be heralds; and of what we should witness. Critically, it also asks of us that we do all this ‘in the unity of the Holy Spirit’.

As our celebration of Pentecost next week will remind us, this ‘oneness’ in Christ, this ‘unity in the power of the Holy Spirit’ does not mean a universal sameness – it means a celebration of our God-created richness in diversity where all are spiritually living in unity but not existentially clones of one another. Rev’d Robyn Davis, a life member of the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Anglican Committee (NATSIAC) has written a poem (The Rainbow Prayer) which starts with this verse:

Dear Loving Lord, Creator of all,
you created us all in your own image,
one image – many colours,
one image – many cultures.
You made us come together like a rainbow,
separate parts but coming together in one creation.
Help us to see the beauty you have created in each and every one of us.

This is a beautiful expression of what ‘unity in the Holy Spirit’ really means; and how antithetical it is to a state of living in disunity – which is a false ethos resting upon the foundation of ‘an us and a them’. The spiritual unity to which Christ called us was expressed in his second greatest commandment – ‘love our neighbours as ourselves’. In other words, he called us to see a spiritual unity where others might see an existential disunity.

Which brings us to the question of what, in the spirit of reconciliation, such love requires. Rev’d Canon Bruce Boase, from the Anglican diocese of South Queensland, this past week related the story of two women, one Aboriginal, the other not, who had been brought together by the impact of suicide in the family of each and who, in silence, had simply embraced. He wrote:

Their reconciliation was not with each other, but with their circumstances. The embrace was not arranged. The woman who lost her husband had to be there. The Aboriginal woman (who had lost her son) had to be there … God was there. It is in the meeting of hearts like this where barriers dissolve and divisions heal – where we see the living Christ at work. Reconciliation is just so important in our relationships with one another. Only with this reconciliation can we be reconciled with God through Christ. Jesus’ death and resurrection provide the ultimate healing for us – healing from sin and the pain of broken relationships. Reconciliation is the start of healing.

So, we come to where circumstances find us in Australia in terms of reconciliation between us all. We are here, we have to be here. In being here, we see some signs of this spiritual unity but also, devastatingly, many of social, economic and political division and disunity. The theme for Reconciliation Week 2022 is that it ‘is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.’ It is a call for us all to journey together to a new home; and for us, as Christians in particular, to do so through the power of prayer as well as in deed.

Back on the equivalent Sunday in 2014, when I also preached on Reconciliation, I quoted some words from a Kaurna elder Mullawirraburka which he had spoken sometime before 1840:

Natta murrieni adlu; paini paininga adlu yanitya tikki; kutyonillando tikkaneadlu paru paintyingga, kuyonilla yertangga. Yaintya atto natta kundo purna yerta

Now let us go farther; formerly we lived here for some time; otherwhere we will now live, upon another district; where meat is at hand. Here I feel now anxious for another district.

The German missionaries C G Teichelmann and C W Schurmann had quoted these poignant words in the first book published about the Kaurna language (Outlines of a grammar, vocabulary and phraseology of the Aboriginal language of South Australia spoken by the natives in and for some distance around Adelaide) – listen again to some of them: ‘formerly we lived here for some time; otherwhere we will now live … I feel now anxious’

Mullawirraburka had, in the space of only a couple of years since first colonial settlement, found himself exiled from his home of the ancient of ages. His words presaged a reality of exile which would continue for his descendants to the present day. This then is the task of faith for all of us, in seeking to be Christ’s ambassadors of reconciliation. How might we walk together in harmony with Mullawirraburka’s descendants and others to find a new home, a place where none of us have never been before. For, in truth, in worldly terms what is needed now in this walk with his descendants and other first nations people is not so much reconciliation as conciliation. Reconciliation is defined in the dictionary as ‘the restoration of friendly relations’ – in terms of a genuine parity of relationship between equals, there never has been such a state since colonial settlement. So, at best in the world view, we need to seek conciliation to find a place of real parity, of true love of neighbour for neighbour. This then makes it all the more important for us, as people who proclaim the Gospel, to pray that into that process of conciliation, we may be ambassadors of that true reconciliation about which the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

In finishing, I want to return to Rev’d Robyn Davis’ poem The Rainbow Prayer, by reading a couple more verses:

Dear Loving Lord, we are your creation,
hear the cries of your people.
You gave us ears to hear and eyes to see,
open our eyes to what you want us to see,
help us always to look to you to see the wisdom of your ways.

Dear Loving Lord, Creator of all,
you gave us hearts to love and minds to reason.
Help us to understand our differences and grow in love for each other.
Help us to come together as the rainbow comes together, many colours, shining as one creation over all the earth
as you intended us to be.
In the name of your dear Son, Jesus Christ.

May, in this Reconciliation Week 2022, we devote our prayers to the theme so that we may ‘understand our differences and grow in love for each other’ and all in the name of Jesus Christ, seek together to find that home which God intended for His Creation.