I climbed a mountain on Friday.
I mean that in a metaphorical way.
On Friday morning, along with thousands of others, I walked down Riccarton Road to Hagley Park for the Earthquake Memorial Service. We were together a battered and vulnerable people. The last few weeks have taken their toll. We are tired and weary. We feel uncertain about the future. Our homes are vunerable. Our livelihoods are uncertain.
And so on Friday, in solidarity with believers throughout the ages, we ‘climbed the mountain of the Lord’ seeking hope.
To be honest, I was not all that confident that the Memorial Service would deliver the hope we sought. I feared that it might be little more than a series of speakers telling their stories of where they were and of what had happened to them, with a couple of entertainment items thrown in for light relief.
I had no need to be apprehensive. The service delivered all that I could reasonably have desired.
Just before the formal start of the service, we witnessed fifteen minutes of the story of our tragedy. A well-crafted video presentation showed scenes of the devastation in the CBD. While we have glimpsed brief news clips of this destruction, it was difficult to take in a full quarter-hour dose of the disaster.
Then the service began, and continued with hope upon hope of inspiration and encouragement.
The Governor General read from the Roman philosopher Seneca. Our city and country leaders spoke of future hope-filled plans. Artists, people of sound faith like Dave Dobbyn and Malvina Major, inspired us with song. We heard and prayed the familiar hymns of our own Christian experience of grief: Psalm 23 (The Lord’s My Shepherd), Amazing Grace & How Great thou Art.
Prince William reminded us that we were not alone as he shared the encouragement of his grandmother: “grief is the price we pay for love”. We probably correctly guess at the time when she shared that with him.
And then, after a couple of hours, the time came for us to descend this mountain, to come down from this holy place of encounter with God. People gently streamed from the park. But now we were different. Our hope had been renewed. Our courage had been strengthened. Our future had become possible.
I was a different person when I joined the stream of fellow citizens flowing from the park. My hope had been renewed. I was beginning to see that we could be a new Christchurch. More importantly, it was these folk that I wanted to be the ‘new Christchurch’ with. I began to think that the ‘new Christchurch’ could be even better than the ‘old’.
We see the same pattern of suffering – to – hope in today’s readings. The second Letter of Timothy opens with an exhortation to ‘bear the hardship’. And today’s Gospel begins with Jesus taking Peter, James and John up the mountain.
What happened when they were ‘up the mountain’ changed their lives forever. They saw Jesus, their companion, for who he really was. They began to appreciate more deeply, that Jesus is God. While up the mountain, they were filled with hope. This hope was not their own invention or creation. This hope was a divine gift. Their hope was not the fruit of their foursome friendship. Their hope was pure gift of God.
They began to understand the heart of the profession of faith we pray every Sunday. Jesus was “God, from God. Light from Light. True God from true God”. Jesus, their companion, was “begotten (that is procreated), not made” (ie not human creation or invention). And then, as we most powerfully and accurately now profess, this human person Jesus, is “consubstantial” (ie of one substance) with the Father.
Jesus is God.
Friends, this is the heart of our faith. The fact is that we are no more vulnerable today than we were a week before the earthquake. In fact there are none less secure than those who consider themselves to be invincible.
Vulnerability and weakness are a part of our healthy human state. This limitation is not a human problem since God is ready and eager to fill our weakness with His strength. This is the brilliance of the divine plan for human existence. Human persons are only capable of living fully when they allow God to complete their limited abilities with divine strength.
And so we descend the mountain with renewed awareness of our frailty, and renewed confidence in God’s presence with us and love for us.
In the Catholic Tradition, every Sunday we climb the mountain of the Lord. This When we come through the doors of the Church we enter sacred space. We begin the Eucharist with an acknowledgment of our weakness and sin. And in the Eucharist God encounters us anew and re-completes us. This event is the ultimate mountain-top experience. If we felt encouraged by Friday’s park gathering, how much more life-giving to encounter the fullness of the real presence of God-with-us in the Mass.
If we follow the lead of our Creator, the new Christchurch will far surpass the old in every way.