Wembley Downs Uniting Church
Current Sermons
Easter Day (Revd Marion Millin) 1.4.2018
Readings: Acts 10:34-48; Mark 16:1-8

When Karen played that song (called `Sun` by the group `Sleeping at Last`) a month or so ago, one particular phrase intrigued me. I guess space, and time Takes violent things, angry things And makes them kind. Like what? Can that be so? And then it hit me. There is no thing, nothing in the universe that is not the product of violent scenarios. Think of the `big bang` which created matter, space and light. Think of stars imploding and exploding as supernovas creating the very atomic elements that form our Earth and our own bodies. And I asked myself, so at what point can violence be `made kind`?

In terms of violent natural forces, certainly some can be seen as constructive - such as eruptions of lava from volcanoes producing some of the richest soils to grow food, but if you were living in a village under one then you would certainly experience this force as destructive. But what about human emotions and interactions? The song goes on to link `violent things` with `angry things`. Can they be `made kind`?

This past hundred or so years has certainly been one of the most violent epochs in human history. And yet . . . it has also seen the growth in the principles of human rights and social justice and inclusive respect for all even if we are still struggling to achieve them. The United Nations arose out of the horror of the Second World War. Cynics might see it as crumbs under the table of huge problems. But if you were a recipient of its medical and food aid, you would see it as a life-giving organisation. It also has an important role to play as a place where dialogue and world opinion can hopefully act as a brake on more violence.

Some of you may have seen the Compass program on TV last Saturday called Fay`s Journey. It starts with Sydneysider Fay Sussman recalling how she had fled Poland as a four year old with her secular Jewish parents because of the pogrom after the war. Of the six million Jews who died in death camps, half came from Poland but those who survived or returned also faced distrust, hatred and violence fanned by the vitriole of Catholic priests saying the Jews were responsible for killing Jesus. Even when the communists came to power, the singing of Jewish Yiddish songs was banned for the next forty years and people were only told six million Poles had died in the war.

It was also forty years before a pope (John Paul II, born in Krakow Poland) took on responsibility for Jewish-Catholic reconciliation, becoming the first to make an official papal visit to a synagogue in 1986 and making a formal apology in 2000 for the `hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians at any time and in any place` adding that there were `no words strong enough to deplore the terrible tragedy of the Holocaust`. It was to be another decade before Pope Benedict XVI wrote that `There is no basis in the scripture for the argument that the Jewish people were responsible for the death of Jesus Christ.`

In the meantime, as Fay put it, `I grew up being angry vowing never to return again to Poland. Being a child of survivors I was angry at the injustice - so I decided to start singing songs from the Jewish Yiddish culture that almost got wiped off the planet.` And then, in wanting to share with others, she went on to put together the first Yiddish band in Sydney. Years later she discovered there had in fact been Poles who had tried to help Jews, many dying in the process too. They are now known as the Righteous among Nations, with more in Poland than anywhere else. To be kind in such an awful time of violence and anger was a wonder indeed.

The Compass program then switched to Kamila and some young friends in the Polish town of Zdunska Wola who, as girls, had come across what they saw as a magic neglected garden with stones carved with beautiful writing on. They didn`t know what they meant but when they discovered it had been a Jewish cemetery, they decided to take care of this place and got together a group of young people to clean it up. When asked by townspeople, `Why are you doing this? - you must be Jewish` she replied, `No, but it`s part of the history of my town so it`s part of me. And I`m taking care of the Jewish memory of my town.`

Kamila went on to become a doctor and helped found a Forum Group called Dialogue Among the Nations as she put it `to educate so people don`t ever forget`. It was she who invited Fay to come and sing in Poland. But Fay also met negative reactions from Jewish friends and family in Australia fearful for her as ancient memories of being beaten and killed got stirred. As she put it, `Being invited by young Poles to sing songs born in Yiddish villages which had been wiped out was a scary thing.`

But then, as we saw scenes of what then happened to Fay in Poland with the respectful listening and enjoyment of Yiddish music, you could see it became part of her healing journey too. In acknowledging what young people are doing in Europe to keep Jewish heritage alive she stated, `Everything that I believe in life is about looking forward but without looking back we cannot appreciate the beauty of looking forward.` As she said this it occurred to me that this role of memory and reflection not only opens up awareness, it also opens up choices, with young people wanting to live life differently from how their parents and grandparents did before, not seeing people as stereotypes to be wary or fearful of, but as unique individuals with gifts to enjoy. Sometimes it does indeed take the disjunct of violent disruption to shift abusive cultures.

As this TV program unfolded, I could also see its narrative reflected in the metanarrative of the Passion story with oppressors, betrayers, scared friends, and the crucified also being the story of Poland and many other countries 75 years ago. And yet . . . and yet . . . I realised it was not the end as I became aware of a Resurrection story of redemption too, with a younger generation of Poles rolling away the stone to let the light in and a new vision out. It certainly gave me a sense of hope that change can happen, that things can be `made kind` as long as there are those who are prepared to run with that alternative vision to violence and anger and alienation - a vision which Jesus called `the kingdom of God`.

Last week I went to see the film `Mary Magdalene` - it`s a bit slow but it does give a fairly accurate picture of the times and portrays the essential elements of the Jesus story through Mary`s eyes in a very clear, unadorned and non-sentimental way. I would certainly recommend it to anyone. Towards the end, following Mary`s vision of Jesus after his death, she affirms that `Whenever there are acts of forgiveness, or acts of loving kindness then the kingdom of God grows. ` And people like Mary and Peter were willing to live by that in a movement that grew and rippled out eventually changing Roman and other cultures across Europe and beyond.

However, the Easter story is not something that belongs back there. This newspaper from yesterday also contains the crucifixion and resurrection story. I read in horror and tears the story behind this headline of `Pure Evil`. I just pray there can be a healing journey for the children involved. But then I went on to read some good news about the Wiluna Remote Community college winning an award for using traditional lore to teach science. Wouldn`t it be great if more and more young Australians could go down the track of Poland in acknowledging our own dark Australian history whilst at the same time learning to value and respect descendants of the oldest culture on earth. And another story caught my eye about Pakistan welcoming back Malala the youngest Nobel Prize winner who survived being shot on a school bus to become a remarkable champion of education for girls - the violence of the Taliban having very opposite effect of the silencing they intended.

And this Jesus story can of course also reflect our own personal story too. There will be sad and suffering times when we might well wonder, `Who will be kind enough to roll the stone away and let the light into my dark world?` And that might come in the form of a friend calling in unexpectedly and spending time just listening as you share your burden of sorrow. As this article so aptly highlights, `May we find a reason to restore hope.` It forms the heading for the Catholic Archbishop of Perth Revd Timothy Costelloe`s article in yesterday`s West Australian. And he went on to expand on this - `It is the hope that joy is more enduring than sorrow, that love is stronger than death, and that life is more powerful than death.`

Mark`s gospel ends abruptly with an angel saying `Do not be afraid`. Jesus`s task on earth is done. There`s been a freeing, a liberation - he has shown us that God cannot be contained in a temple, a belief system or a tomb of death. For me, whether or not I believe in a physical resurrection is irrelevant. What is important is that I believe that there is indeed a spiritual dimension intertwining our physical universe which is there for us and that such caring love will in the end transform evil and make it `kind`. But it`s now over to us to see ourselves within that loving serving framework which Jesus calls the kingdom of God, and then to choose to play a role in transforming suffering and evil through our own prayerful reflections and loving actions.

We do not have to be afraid of life or death, my friends, because the message we receive from the empty tomb is not that love wins over everything except human treachery, or over everything except fear, or everything except despair, or pain or death. The meaning of this day, if we are open to encountering the risen Christ, is that love is the only thing that triumphs over all else. And interwoven into this love story is the reality of ourselves as the body of Christ now present in the world. Amen

130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882

Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands,
Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands