Is there a limit to forgiveness is the question Peter asks Jesus. 7 was the number of completeness and the limit to which one would go in terms of forgiving another. Jesus, as he often does, overturns the accepted tradition and introduces forgiveness without limits. For Jesus what was deemed permanent was always open to change and reinterpretation.
I have seen this occur many times over – women clergy, interfaith marriages, legalising homosexuality, women bishops, vote for indigenous people, land rights – are just a few. What had been deemed as permanent was and has been changed and the sky has not fallen in.
Our church’s liturgy and language has evolved according to culture, place and knowledge. The liturgy in our green prayer book is a result of many iterations of a book from the 16th century, itself based on a series of liturgies from the church prior to the Reformation.
No thing has remained the same. Language, rituals and the various symbols have changed over time and will continue to change. This come with our increasing understanding of the world, our knowledge and the place we find ourselves in. Much of our church seasons are out of sync with the seasons as experienced here in Australia. We celebrate a white Christmas at a time of the year when snow is highly unlikely.
It is too much to ask that we align such as the Christmas story with the seasons but perhaps we can change some of the symbols and language we use to be more in line with the country and its culture; and in sync with those who have lived here for thousands of years before Captain Cook.
It is time for us as the church to engage with this place and the spirituality of those who lived here before and to develop a genuinely Australian theology, liturgy and practice. Then we can begin to recognise ourselves, not as transplanted northern Europeans, but as dinky di natives of a country speaking a different language, symbolically and liturgically.
This is a part of the process of forgiveness necessary for non-indigenous people to find a home here. It is not just the sense of being forgiven by the indigenous people, but to find a way to forgive ourselves for the imposition of a culture and bridge the gap between the two.
Forgiveness allows us to feel at home here and begin to reimagine the story to give it a distinctly original feel. This is both the story of our country and the Christian story that has played a significant role in the past and will shape our future.
This is the reason why there have been some changes made to our 10 am liturgy and some new words used in key places in the Great Thanksgiving.
It is important to begin this process at the very centre of our liturgical practice, the institution of the Holy Communion.
Traditionally we have said the words taken from Matthew’s gospel:
- “Take, eat. This is my body.”
- “This is the blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Do this in remembrance of me.”
Our prayer book actually has 5 variations of this statement, with different words used for different theological traditions (First – Fifth Order – p 119 forward). We in fact do not have one firm form to use. The language in each changes the emphasis and responds to a particular theological culture and place.
In our new order of service we have simply reimagined these words in relation to the spirituality and understanding of indigenous Australians. It is important to remember this is indigenous spirituality, not indigenous Christianity which owes much of its identity to the missionaries and the missions and not to Aboriginal spirituality.
Lets unpack what we now use just a little:
- “This is my body, my country, given for you and all creation, take, eat and be restored.”
In Aboriginal spirituality my body is my country, my body contains within it all I need; law, land, language, ceremony, kinship (or community). My body is the holder of my identity and my spirituality. My body is my temple. Similarly Christianity is not a disembodied faith, it is an embodied faith, as is indigenous spirituality: we carry everything that identifies us here in this earthen vessel because it was from and for our country – heaven and earth – we were created.The Incarnated Wisdom of God carried with him his country of origin and his country of birth – heaven and earth in a body that was both divine and created. Our sharing in the meal he instituted is where we bring together both countries in our own bodies. We carry with us the community of both heaven and earth within us – our language, law, lore and kinship or community of being. This is our identity and it is indistinguishable in concept from that of indigenous Australians for whom their country is their identity.
- “This is my life given for you and all creation, drink joyfully and be renewed.
The Arrente of Alice Springs have a word – utyerre – a line or vein or bloodline or a vein carrying blood. It speaks of what holds us together and this is what we share in the Eucharist, this unbroken line to heaven and earth through the fully human/fully divine Wisdom person, Jesus. It is what connects us to all created beings for nothing was created without Jesus and therefore his blood flows through our veins from the beginning of all creation to the end of time. It is our shared life we are hold in kinship or community. Jesus blood is his life. What we partake of at Communion is the life of the Christ binding us to the Trinitarian Godhead and all created beings.
- The call to communion:
“Here is the place heaven and earth meet, here is the “everywhere, then” of our dreaming.”
The dreaming is not a remote past event but an “everywhere, then experience” where past, present and future intersect in our day-to-day life just as the kingdom of God is not a time bound entity. The dreaming is alive and amongst us if we are open to the sounds of the spirits (Holy Spirit) in our created and non-created environment. The Christian myth is not a finished myth, creation is still being created and the incarnation of the Wisdom of God is taking place wherever there is new life appearing, opportunities abounding, and death and resurrection taking place.
- Jesus as Elder
In Aboriginal culture all wisdom is held by the elders. They receive the law, ceremony and culture and hold it in trust all on behalf of the people. It is the elders who share the sacred stories and wisdom and it is from them the members of the nation understand their place in the world.
Jesus is, according to scripture the one who holds within his life and experience the wisdom and tradition of his Father – God. He is the Word who shares what he has received with all who come to him. In this sense, it is appropriate to speak of him as our elder.
“Knowing blood does not cleanse us,
We recognise his obedience to your tradition and language,
Which lead him to be unjustly crucified,
Opens the way for us to remain faithful to
Your way, the ways of our ancestors, your prophets.”
Aboriginal people understand it is life that is important. Life is circular and death is not differentiated from life. Death is part of the circle of life. Aboriginal people understand that the blood of the innocent shed during the Invasion and subsequent genocide has not set them free. Their’s is not a sacrificial world view. They do understand that the life of Jesus the elder is an example of how to live and engage with it as a means to life and freedom.
This is just the beginning of coming to grips with our history, finding a way to forgive ourselves and others and bridging the gap between cultures which has no right to be there. We are taking tentative but positive steps. Let us continue.