Brisbane: Memorial Mass for Sri Lanka

Archbishop greets Buddhist Monks after memorial serviceArchbishop Coleridge – leader of the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane, delivered a homily on the Sri Lanka bombings at a memorial event held in Brisbane on 28 April 2019.

The bombs in Sri Lanka exploded on the Sunday of the Resurrection, the very heart of Christian life and worship, the womb of our hope. As in Christchurch, there was a special horror in the killing of those who came to worship; but it would be wrong to see the blasts simply as an attack on Christianity. They were certainly that, but they were more. Not only churches were hit, nor was it only Christians who died. People of different religious background and persuasion were killed – Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and others – but also people who profess no religion at all.

Nor was it only one part of the Sri Lankan population that was struck. Sinhalese died, but so too did Tamils and others – and this after the horrors of a civil war that lasted for more than twenty-five years. We thought that a strife-torn nation like Sri Lanka could see no worse than civil war – and then there come these blasts. After the attacks in Christchurch, people asked how this could happen in a country as peaceful as New Zealand. After these latest attacks, we ask how these horrors could happen in a country as tormented as Sri Lanka has been.

But not only Sri Lankans were killed. At the last count, there were among the dead people from India, Great Britain, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, the USA, Japan and Turkey. The bombs reached round the world. The attacks weren’t just against a particular religious community or even a nation. These were attacks against humanity; and here this morning that’s what we recognize as we come together from all our different countries and communities, rejecting every ideology of tribe and identity. Our humanity draws us together, because it’s our humanity that has been attacked.


Archbiship Coleridge preaching
The Consul has read from the Acts of the Apostles which spoke of “the signs and wonders [of God]…worked among the people at the hands of the apostles”. What we’ve seen in Sri Lanka have been not the signs and wonders of God but the signs and wonders of Satan, bringing not life but death, not joy but sorrow. If Easter is the masterpiece of heaven, attacks such as these are the masterpiece of hell.

In such a moment, the Risen Jesus stands among us here this morning – as he did blood-spattered in the church in Negombo, a picture of which you see on the front of the Mass booklet. He stands there, the One who descended into hell, coming fresh from the tomb, bearing not only the wounds of his own death but also the blood of those murdered during Mass. He stands with hand raised in greeting, and he speaks the words he first spoke when he rose from the dead: “Peace be with you!” In the New Testament these are always his first words when he comes from the tomb: “Peace be with you!” And he speaks them here today, speaking into our shock and grief, just as he did to his shocked and grieving first followers, calling them to joy.


Buddhist Monks at Memorial Service
In speaking these words, Jesus says that, in suffering and dying, he has entered every depth of human suffering, gone to the very bedrock of human despair. He says, “I’ve seen it all; I’ve seen the worst; and you have nothing to fear! Because the last word belongs to life not death, to peace not violence, to love not fear: Peace be with you!” All our fears we bring with us this morning. They seem to have such explosive power; but, says Jesus, they are a bluff – and here we call their bluff. We unmask the beast and the beast, it turns out, has no power at all.

In the Gospel reading we have heard, Jesus asks Thomas to touch his wounds; and he asks us to do the same. So we reach out to touch the wounds of all the dead and injured. We don’t turn away from the horror. We touch the wounds, and we finally understand as Thomas did. We understand that the wounds become a fountain, that death becomes new life. We understand that the wounds of the dead and injured are the wounds of Jesus. Their blood has become his blood; his victory is theirs. If we understand that, our doubt can turn to faith, as it did for Thomas. How can we not have doubts in a moment like this? How can our faith not be shaken? It would be very odd if it weren’t, given the enormity of what has happened. Yet with all our uncertainties and doubts, we say this morning with Thomas, “My Lord and my God!”, and we say it to the One who is so much more than his death.


Archbishop greets Buddhist Monks after memorial service
Archbishop greets Buddhist Monks after memorial service

In my own Church, today is called Divine Mercy Sunday. It can seem almost perverse to speak of mercy at a time when we’ve seen how merciless the world can be, as merciless as young people walking among the innocent with a backpack full of bombs, as merciless as the demonic schemers who send them to their death. But mercy – certainly the mercy of God – always sees more, sees beyond all that is merciless in the world. God sees our misery and our mercilessness but knows that we are more than these. God sees the hypocrisy and corruption of communities and nations, but God knows than they are more than these. God sees the horror of this agony in Sri Lanka but knows that this is not the full story. The tears will not dry quickly; the wounds will not soon be healed. But Easter isn’t destroyed by bombs. Divine mercy has its way.

This morning we have heard the words of Jesus from the Book of the Apocalypse – words first addressed to a community in desperate need of reassurance. “Do not be afraid”, says Jesus. “It is I, the First and the Last, the living one. I was dead and now I am to live forever, and I hold the keys of death and of the underworld”. Just as the blood of the dead, spattering the statue in Negombo, became the blood of Jesus himself, so now his words become their words calling to us from beyond the grave, “It is I, [your sister your brother, your flesh and blood], the living one. I was dead and now I am to live forever”. They are gone but still they speak and with a voice that nothing can silence, not distance and not even death. Let that be our strength, our hope, our consolation. God bless Sri Lanka. Amen.


Brisbane Memorial Service for Sri Lanka
Brisbane Memorial Service for Sri Lanka


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