22 February 2012
The grief and pain of ongoing earthquakes in Christchurch were marked yesterday in an Ash Wednesday ecumenical service in St Paul’s Cathedral, Wellington.
During the liturgy, the large congregation stood in two minutes silence at 12.51pm, the moment, a year before, when the devastating quake hit.
The quake, one of thousands to hit New Zealand’s second largest city since September 4, 2010, claimed the lives of 185, some of whom were buried in a communal grave because they could not be identified.
The parish priest of the neighbouring Sacred Heart Cathedral, Fr James Lyons, told the congregation in a homily that there is no blessing in what lays waste.
Here is the full text of his homily.
There’s nothing blessed about losing a loved one. There’s nothing holy about destruction and disorder. Jesus would never say Blessed are the violent, or Blessed are the disasters that take life and shatter the work of human hands.
So, when we look back to the Christchurch earthquake, when we remember the grief that burst from that tragic day and the pain and dislocation that has filled the past year for the many victims, friends and families of those killed, we are not praising God. There is no blessing in what lays waste!
But our faith also tells us that this devastation is not a punishment. In the time of Jesus, when a tower collapsed killing 18 people, he told his listeners the tragedy had nothing to do with God’s judgment. He said we should use human tragedies and natural disasters to reflect on our own lives – delicate treasures, gifts to be used for the good of all.
Later he said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ – those who know their need of God; who know they are not independent of nature; that they need one another to make sense of life and to fulfill their own. Blessed are the peacemakers – not those who simply keep the peace, but those who take the positive steps to create an atmosphere for peace to flourish, who are not afraid to forgive a hurt; who listen to hearts other than their own.
Ash Wednesday begins a time to focus on my relationship with God and with others. When the ashes are smeared on my forehead, I’m aware of how small and powerless I am in the huge, powerful cosmos; but the ashes also touch the life unfolding in me, helping me see more clearly what I’m called to become – and the part I have to play in this amazing world.
As Christchurch begins her rebuilding, the pattern is the same for everyone: from our nothingness comes our gradual awareness of the gift that is life, a life inseparable from other people and the world around us. Christchurch is beginning to dream of what could be. The nightmare is giving way to the dawn of new hope.
The bible opens with the image of God’s Spirit hovering over the chaos at the beginning of time, filling the dark void with light and life. This same Spirit is with us now, assuring us that the chaos will not conquer because, even the most chaotic mess or devastating painful experience, contain the seeds of rebirth. Ashes hold what was once vibrant and treasured – it takes only our love, motivating our determination to release them again.