Day of Mourning Sermon


 “The Land of Dreams Begins”  

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”  (Rom. 8:19)

Indeed, the creation has been waiting a very, very long time for the children of God to make themselves known; Paul tells us it is groaning as does a woman in childbirth, and then talks about waiting in hope for that which cannot be seen.  Perhaps this hope, this fulfilment, is something akin to the statement by Pablo Naruda, Chilean poet, diplomat and politician, that the land of dreams begins in the eyes of mourning, i.e. it is through the vision given us through the experience of mourning, not morning as in dawn, but mourning with an ‘ou’ as in grief.  

Maybe, just maybe, there might be, in this Day of Mourning, a chance for the children of God to discover themselves, and enter the door to the ‘Land of Dreams’.  In any event, the Day of Mourning is of too great a significance to be consigned the cesspool of political debate, as many are wont to do with it.  Whatever you may think about the merits or otherwise of moving the date of Australia Day, the Uniting Church has set this observance on the weekend preceding Australia Day weekend to create some space between the Day of Mourning and our national celebration; close enough to be related, but not the same.

Having said this, the history of the Day of Mourning goes back to Australia Day 81 years ago. On that day a group of Aboriginal men and women gathered at Australia Hall in Sydney. The participants at the first Day of Mourning came from all across Australia to continue a struggle that had begun 150 years previously. They met to move the following resolution:

… representing THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA, assembled in conference at the Australian Hall, Sydney, on the 26th day of January, 1938, this being the 150th Anniversary of the whiteman’s seizure of our country, HEREBY MAKE PROTEST against the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen during the past 150 years, AND WE APPEAL to the Australian nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines, we ask for a new policy which will raise our people TO FULL CITIZEN STATUS and EQUALITY WITHIN THE COMMUNITY.”

The first Day of Mourning, 1938

That was in 1938.  That they were not considered to be full citizens in their own land is indicative of what the colonists thought of them.  As many of you know, aborigines were not even counted as people in the census. Though they finally managed to gain citizenship about 30 years later, equality is still a ways off in a number of areas, for example in expected life span, income potential and freedom from racial discrimination.

That our indigenous population has good cause to mourn is not debatable: their land was taken from them, their people killed, the survivors oppressed, their children taken from them, their basic rights denied.  Of course, they have good reasons to mourn, but I imagine the question for us today is: Why should we observe a Day of Mourning with them?

Well, in the first place we, as a church, have been asked to do so. But certainly there is sufficiently clear guidance from Scripture that the church should not have needed a request. In the reading from Micah today we heard a powerful, unambiguous message: your religious observances are trivial compared to the call to “do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”  Jesus echoed this in his Sermon on the Mount when he said, “not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father.”

As people of God, injustice will ‘stick in our craw’, and we are compelled to deal with it. When asked to stand alongside our indigenous brothers and sisters, who have been, and continue to be, victims of injustice, is there anyway the church could refuse?

But I think this goes beyond a matter of simple responsibility.  Obligation takes us just so far; some of you will fall in line and take it seriously, and some won’t.  And even many of those who take the responsibility seriously will eventually fall away from loss of energy, uncertainty about the effect of their actions, even burnout.  Standing alongside one who is mourning has merit; helping them in doing something positive to ease their grief is saintly, but the Day of Mourning suggests more than this, I think.

Going back to Naruda’s comment, “In the eyes of mourning, the land of dreams begins,” offers much more. If we are to step over the threshold into the land of dreams, or in religious terms, into the realm of God, we will be helped to find the way through mourning. The Day of Mourning is an invitation to us Second Peoples to join the First Peoples in the mourning, to experience it and, though the experience, to gain new eyes.  

It is easier said than done, of course. Mourning is an emotion that arises from the experience of loss.  We can’t just conjure up an emotion of grief unless we are aware of a loss, so the question is, while we are all too aware of the reasons for the mourning of the aboriginal people, have we suffered losses as well in the course of Australia’s history of which we are not conscious?  I can think of three.  If I thought further, I’m sure I could conjure up more, but I trained in the day when three-point sermons were all the rage, so three is a good place to stop.

I have said before that I don’t think there can be such a thing a personal salvation.  The U.S. Marines have a motto, “No one left behind.” I think Jesus might say the same; unless all are part of the Kingdom of God, no one is.  If people have become so enlightened and so adept at living the will of God that the Realm of God is real to them, they will inevitably be called back to anyone or anything in pain in the world. Another’s pain is a source of discontent to the saint, and the peace of the Kingdom is not complete.  Another’s pain is a source of pain for those who are one with God; another’s grief is a source of grief for the follower of Jesus. Thus we can grieve that our salvation is still beyond our grasp.

As well as a loss of contentment, surely there must be a loss of integrity if one thinks about it.  In our society, living off the earnings of crimes is, itself, a crime.  But more to the point, if we live off of that which belongs to another, how can we feel good about ourselves. 

During the political debate about saying ‘sorry’ to the aboriginal people during the time of the Howard government, the anti-apology side argued that present day people are not responsible for the crimes of their ancestors, which is certainly a valid argument; no one is responsible for the acts of their predecessors. However, if we happily benefit from the proceeds of the crimes of our predecessors, are we not complicit in their crimes after the fact.  A very significant percentage of the  wealth of this nation, and yours, too, unless you earned it overseas, has been derived from the land that was taken from the original inhabitants.  We can’t really do much about that; we can’t change history, but we can grieve the loss of our integrity, our innocence, our contentment.

The third source of grief is the loss of community and, as such, the loss of relationship with God.  The Doctrine of the Trinity celebrates the notion of God as relationship, Three in One.  In fact, if this doctrine says anything about what God is, we are told that God does not exist outside of relationship. God is relationship, and if so, we cannot know God outside of relationship.  When relationship is broken, God disappears.  

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember your brother has a grievance against you, you must set you gift down and go make peace with your brother, and then return and present your gift.  In other words, you cannot meet God at the altar if there is a broken relationship in your world.

Jesus also said what you have done to the least of these you have done for me.  As a nation, what have we been doing for Jesus over the last 231 years through our treatment of the First People of this land? 

So we grieve the loss of community, and the consequent loss of God’s presence in that community.  We grieve the loss of the ideals of nationhood in which all belong, are valued and have an equal chance at health and happiness. We grieve a broken country.

What is grief but our response to loss, the loss of valued things we are powerless to prevent.  We can’t change the past, and history has presented us with a life filled with riches that have been paid for by the blood and oppression of the original peoples; given us citizenship in a broken nation, and keeps us from fulfilment as children of God. And because we can’t reverse the past, we grieve.  And in our grieving, we may see the beginning of the ‘land of dreams’.


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