Until about ten years ago this large figure behind the high altar, a Christus Rex, or "Christ the King of creation", was backed with a heavy blue velvet cloth. Then this “Tree of Life” tapestry was commissioned, woven and hung behind it. The range of colours are linked to the windows over the main entrance, modern stained glass picturing life in Wangaratta, that you'll see as you leave the building. I take it as weaving together the lesson that Christ, the picture of God’s love, happens here and now in the midst of nature and culture and commerce, in our work and art and sport, in thought and word and deed and life and death every single day. It’s a sign that says both, “ I am to be found here” and “All will be well.”
But there are other crosses around here as well: crucifixes, representations of a man dying or dead on a cross; you can see one above the pulpit to my right, and it’s important to note these crosses too because they mark an equally common crossroad in the human condition: the days when it gets worse, when we suffer and die, or when we come together under tragic circumstances like today.
For when a person dies too soon, or when a death is violent or seems senseless and leaves you wondering, “what if?” and “if only,” or when we feel sad and angry and regretful -- knowing that everybody did their best but still someone you knew and loved got lost, went missing -- then the tragedy multiplies; and any religious optimism that says it gets better can seem a kind of double cross avoiding the disparity between the hypocrisy of cheap and hopeful God talk on one hand, and the deep fragility, the tragedy, the sad music of human life and death on the other.
But the strange thing is, once you’re there, caught in that reality, between two paradoxical realities then the man on the crucifix can make some sense. Because, maybe, Jesus hanging, suffering, dying there on the cross is a sign that the God, the eternal compassion, love, longing and light who might have made the universe (not just then but now), is also hanging around here in the middle of what looks like the worst deal in town -- saying “I'm here too;" with you, and with me, and with R.... Because in Jesus, God might just be saying, “I know what it is to die too young, I know what it is to feel like the world is against me, I know what it is to feel like love is losing, I know what it is to weep, I know what it is to want it all to be taken away; and I can meet you there too!”
It’s a hard truth to swallow and it is far easier to find a “happy clappy" Jesus and that may be easier in the short run, but there are still these other moments when the sky gets dark and the shadow of death is near when family and friends feel far away and life can seem like the ultimate cheat and we really need to know that love can live there too. I'll grant you it’s a big ask, and such a set of beliefs can seems absurd some days, but it still bears watching and wondering: “What if it all hangs together that close? What if love and compassion can live right there in the shadow of pain and death as well?”
I try taking that chance myself: to let a little faith light that way with some hope: “For now we see… dimly, but then we will see face to face. [For] Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” This might be the way through the very middle of the tragedy to a new way home.
Just keep looking at, looking through, that crucifix, and the other cross too: keep that hope on the horizon, that place between these two crosses, the place where we see the poor in spirit, the hungry , the meek and mourning, where we see Rick and all the rest of us here; found by, a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
May R... now know that hope, that love, that peace: and may we as well. Amen.