AN EASTER REFLECTION

BY CANON OWEN FEATHERHEAD

What a joyful time is Easter, a time of goodwill and merriment for all. Or it should be. But I hope we are mindful of those in our community who cannot rejoice in this season. Those who are sorely tried by "discrimination" for instance. I think of our many Moslem friends, who probably feel a bit "out of it" as we Christians celebrate the birth of our Saviour. It would be a nice gesture, would it not, if we were to join in their celebrations for the birth of the founder of their faith, whenever that is.

Then there are those victims of discrimination who are not allowed to declare their love and commitment to each other in the beautiful ceremony of marriage. I know many such people, and indeed my daughter Elspeth is among them. It is a source of great sorrow to me that as her father and a Christian minister I am unable to officiate at the wedding that Elspeth and her "intended" Bev would dearly like to have, as I was able to officiate when Elspeth married Harold some years ago. There is no Easter joy in that deprivation.

Nor should we forget those good and gifted servants of the people, the Labor members of parliament in Queensland now dispossessed of their seats, victims every one of them of discrimination in the form of racist and "redneck" reaction whipped up by the Satanic forces of the Murdoch press. As a "true believer" (in both senses!) myself, one who lived through the glorious days of Gough, I can only say that they who now taste the bitter cup of an ungrateful electorate truly share in the suffering of Him who was "despised and rejected of men" or should I say persons.

I think too of our "First Australians". Excluded from our constitution, excluded from much of their land, are they not like the Babe in the manger excluded from the inn? Easter ought to be a time for the rest of us, so privileged and often uncaring, to stretch out the hand of friendship to a First Australian and invite them into our home for good fellowship and a "prawn on the barbie" - or perhaps it should be a witchetty grub - and a glass of Easter cheer.

I remember - though as I advance into the "sere and yellow" I have to admit that my memory is not what it was - I remember that when I was a young missionary in Arnhem Land my spouse Enid and I got to know many First Australians. Although I was a bearer of the Gospel, the "good news" they might not otherwise have heard, I used to say to Enid that our mission work should not be "a one-way street" but that we and they should learn from each other. We decided to surprise our Indigenous congregation by learning some of their customs, such as the ancient and enchanting smoking dance. With the aid of a volume of anthropology and various "props", including some beautiful stringybark loin cloths run up by Enid on her Singer, and the contents of her cosmetics case, we prepared and rehearsed the dance until we were satisfied with our "act", as theatre people say. At Matins on Easter morning, instead of a sermon, I lit some back numbers of The Anglican piled up in the font and Enid and I performed our dance. Well, we certainly succeeded in our object of surprising our congregation. I suppose it must be owing to years of being on the the "receiving end" of prejudice and patronisation, but our audience, I regret to say, did not take our exercise in inculturation in the spirit in which it was intended. Amid a loud commotion, pews were knocked over and our organist produced a bone and pointed it at Enid and me. "Mine tinkit our dance am only for blackfellas," expostulated one of the more warrior-like members of our flock. "You get hell off our land, whitey, you and missus with face like possum's bum or" - here he bared his teeth - "you find out how kangaroo feels with boomerang on neck." Two of our sidesmen, perhaps not quite themselves, chased after Enid in her loin cloth and I very much fear would have violated her had she not been so fleet of foot. Yet who can blame these worthy people? Have we not all felt angry at times or felt that our special interests have been trampled upon? And is that not part of the great virtue of humility which we associate particularly with Easter? Enid and I felt that humility very keenly when we found that the flames in the font had spread to the whole mission and we were left with nothing but the loin cloths we were standing in.

I always think that Easter is especially Easter if experienced in Jerusalem, the Holy City - and not holy only to us Christians; respect for Jerusalem is something that unites several faiths, as from time to I remind my friend and colleague Imam Ibn al Choppa-hedoff Poofa of the Burchett Hill Mosque (his reply, "Jerusalem unite us when last Israeli pig there gets throat slit" is discouraging but I persevere). A few years ago Enid and I achieved a lifelong ambition of spending Easter in Jerusalem. Though not "touristy types" we naturally wanted to see as many as possible of the sacred places Our Lord Himself would have known if they had been still standing. I said to our driver, "Take us somewhere where we can feel the excitement of walking on holy ground." When we alighted from our coach we were guided into a large hall where, over the busy hubbub of chatter we could hear the clinking of money. A bank? Why on earth would he have brought us here? "No," said Enid, clutching my arm with excitement. "Look at the money-changers. This must be the Temple." We were both overcome with emotion. "Is this is the successor to the Temple destroyed in 70 AD?" I asked our guide. "What this shit you say 70AD?" he replied. "This Maison Golda Meir Grand Jerusalem Casino built last year. Most exciting place in city." How bitterly disappointed I felt, just as the Carpenter of Nazareth must have done when Peter failed him in the Garden of Gethsemene. I could see Enid examining her handbag. "My dear," I said, "let us leave, my soul is sorely troubled." But she had vanished. Late that night she returned to the hotel, on foot because, like the Prodigal Son, she had not enough of "the ready" left to afford a taxi.

That too taught me humility. We had to stay at the YMCA for the remainder of our visit because Enid's evening at the tables had exhausted our cash-card and credit resources. It was not the cleanest of places and there was a fair amount of what I am told is termed "action" going on in the shower stalls. Yet adversity gave us a true insight into the meaning of Easter. Even when we returned to "Oz" and, Enid's losses being more extensive than they first appeared, found we had to sell our car and mortgage our home I was buoyed up by the thought that Easter is not about winning but about losing. In the short term, that is.

For as at the first Easter, we rise again. Our financial embarrassment was left behind as new opportunities for ministry arose, new challenges to bring new rewards. I am happy to say that before long I was appointed to a permanent position at the World Council of Churches, with Enid and me flying hither and yon to anti-poverty conferences and anti-sexism conventions like two  seasoned "jet setters".

"Down" but never "out". Is that not the message of Easter in a nutshell?

Canon Featherhead, now retired, is chair of the Burchett Hill Churches Action Against Fracking Alliance.

8 April 2012

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