Reflection for Holy Thursday

Today we celebrate the Last Supper.

Welcome to our little community here in Redfern. Today is a day that has a special sense of the sacred. We enter into a mystery of the Other. It is the God within our midst and we share in unraveling this sublime mystery. We partake of a meal but more profoundly we experience the sacred in a way that transcends words and proofs. We are part of a mystery that is beyond mystery. It is to use the words of Judith Wright “Where wisdom shells the words away, where the sun joins earth to watch the place at which these silent rituals are”.

Yet we know that we must break the shell within our own being for it is there that sadness and despair of beauty are laid bare. For when we are wounded we are tempted to close up instead of allowing a soft growing back over the opening. What we do is to grow a shell as a protection from the world that appears so loveless. What is so sad is that if we are hurting and we move back into the shell than self-protection can rob life of its vitality.

The theme and the essence for the next three days will centre on the land where we worship here in Redfern and see this in the context of the words that John Paul II spoke to our Aboriginal brothers and sisters at Alice Springs in November 1986. It ties in so richly with the rituals and the array of symbols that we have in our rich tradition for Holy Week.

“At the beginning of time, as God’s spirit moved over the waters He began to communicate something of His goodness and beauty to all of creation. When He created man and woman, He gave them the good things of the earth for their use and benefit and He put into their hearts abilities and powers that were His gifts. You have for thousands of years lived in this land and fashioned a culture that endures to this day. The spirit of God has always been with you. Your dreaming is the only way of your touching the mystery of God’s spirit in you and in creation. You must hold onto this throughout your lives. You have a lifestyle proper to your own ethnic genius or culture – a culture that the church respects and which you can in no way renounce. You lived your lives in spiritual closeness to the land and through this you have touched the sacredness of man’s relationship with God, for the land was the proof of a power greater in life than yourselves”.

The challenge put by the Pope was that for the message of the Gospel story to be effective and for the church to truly acknowledge the sanctity of the Aboriginal way we must needs learn to live the experience. It meant that we all attempt to integrate the Good News of the Gospel into the richness of Aboriginal culture. We draw from this beautiful and ancient culture the vision and the challenge to struggle for justice and freedom. As we well know, if we are to achieve this goal, it will mean conflict with the dominant society. That will include those Catholics who have allowed their faith to become subservient to the values and goals of that society.

If we reflect with the depth as that shown by the Gospels we will come to understand that the Aboriginal worldview is underpinned by a visionary geography. The dreaming is an ever present reality. It is ever present, unseen, the ground of being, of existence. For the doctrine of the aborigines is ingrained in their ritual and their art. This is nothing less than their sacramental relationship with the land itself. They conform their being to the demands of eternity for the person and the tribe were to be put into right relationship with the dreaming and with the natural world. This is the material vestment which clothed the eternal.

The Pope’s words challenge us to look at the way greed, racism and neo-colonialism caused and still cause suffering of the original owners of this land that we inhabit. What he is saying is in total contradiction to the way the Howard Government deals with indigenous issues or how Minister Sartor plans to take the people off their land, all in the cause of development for the gentry.

We have a picture of Mum Shirl above our altar and hopefully there will be one of Fr. Ted for the first anniversary of his death on the 17th of May. They were saints in the truest sense because they worked and were found in the acreage we call Redfern and beyond. But we must not use them to make them breeding grounds for saints. They are for us beacons of what can be.

It is for this reason that we need to refigure the otherness of God who is in no way in opposition to us and learn to live with a spirituality of the ordinary, of our humanness, of our breaking bread together.

Yet this can be very threatening for unless we are able to lose all for the Kingdom or for the fullness of the Dreamtime we can never experience the truly real. It is here that we need to explore the four elements of the ordinary — life, love, truth and death. It is in them that we too touch the mystery of God, which is the spirit in us and in all creation. It is in the Eucharistic meal that we are about to share in the fullest sense. It is in the words of Judith Wright’s ‘The Gumtree Stripping’ that we glean the reality for we “Split down and strip to end the season and be quiet and look for reasons past the edge of reason”. That is what tonight is about.

We all want to be found faithful on the day of the Lord and it is in the Eucharistic mystery that this fidelity can take place. We might need to move outside the circle of proverbial Catholicism to grasp what we so readily take for granted. When we celebrate the Eucharist we share the bread and the wine as the Body and the Blood of God. We are mindful that we are alive, enjoying the dwelling in the present moment.

The message of Jesus is clear in the Last Supper. The disciples had been following Him in person yet they had, it would seem, not been able to come into real contact with the marvelous reality of His being. When Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, He said, ’This is my body, this is my blood. Drink it and you will have eternal life’. Isn’t this a beautiful way to awaken His disciples from forgetfulness?

Yet it is Christ’s gift in the Eucharist that allows us to resurrect in ourselves the grace of being able to touch the Kingdom of Life. We receive the life of Christ in our bodies. It is when the Minister of the Eucharist performs the Eucharistic rite that he or she brings life to the community. The miracle is that we eat and drink in mindfulness. If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply we become reborn, because our bread is life itself. Eating it deeply we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth and everything in the cosmos for when we touch life we touch the kingdom of God. Isn’t this what the Pope eludes to when he talks about the Universal Dreaming being a way of our touching the mystery of God’s spirit in all of us and in creation itself. That is what Jesus did when He broke bread and drank wine in the supreme Eucharistic feast with His disciples and what we are about to re-enact in these most sacred of moments. It is our way of touching the mystery of God’s spirit. When Jesus shared the Last Supper with His disciples He allowed them and all of us into the mystery of creation itself which is the ultimate dreamtime.

John Hill
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