I haven’t sung the second verse of the national anthem for years, and yet it wasn’t because of forgotten words that I couldn’t sing it today. Rather, standing in the middle of Martin Place, earlier than I’d ever been awake let alone cognizant, the following words couldn’t get past a very hard lump in my throat:
“For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share”.
Yes! I wanted to yell but couldn’t even whisper. Do you hear that – boundless! – but I couldn’t manage much defiance. Reluctant to appear as though I wasn’t singing for the exact opposite reason to the truth, I croaked them out, suddenly undone in spite of all that had gone before. There was so much talk of spirit and mate-ship, community and enduring, loyalty and love, and yet in the midst of it all the giant billboard-sized elephant in the room reminding us that we are broken, even on the best of days.
And so hundreds of male voices can sing solemnly that “there is no death”, but the ‘remembering in our hearts’ of which they speak is not akin to life. And standing in the cold enveloping blackness, the shoulder-to-shoulder morning silence, we do so because there IS death, and because no amount of saying otherwise fixes the incredulity and heart-rending pain at the loss of life that we stood to remember.
No amount of singing our generosity can make up for the hate we speak.
No amount? Actually, some of the words sung this morning rang out with a truth that reverberated around the stone walls. Some of the words were so ALMOST right, pointing and grasping and longing for exactly what is most profoundly true -except that we didn’t speak about it once.
We prayed about suffering that gives way to victory – but failed to mention the only suffering that purchased a victory everlasting. We listened to songs about the absence of death – but failed to mention the mortality that will be swallowed up by eternal life. We sang to the ‘Judge of the Nations’ about the pomp of yesterday passing – but failed to see that we have already forgotten what the song urged us not to.
All I could be this morning was thankful that this wasn’t all, because it isn’t enough. It isn’t enough to join hands one moment, and stand divided hissing vitriol the next. It isn’t enough to remember a shadow of a person, a Harry Potter resurrection stone insufficient replica.
There is a story that explains both why this isn’t enough and what is – the truth our hearts ache to know. It is the story of a garden, and a King we would not recognize, a story of ignoring what we were made for and chasing the cry of our hearts in things that would not satisfy. It is, finally, the story of a King who came down to put things right, and the cross on which he hung, and an empty tomb – cenotaph – and the promise of life everlasting for those who trust in him.
It is a story that offers hope such as cannot be found in our newspapers, or even in the middle of a service of remembering. It is not just a story, but the story – true and ongoing, and you are part of it – so won’t you read it and come home?
“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” 1 Peter 1:18-19
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 1 Corinthians 15:4