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Journey into Freedom
by the Right Rev. Duleep de Chickera
CEYLON 050926-1
September 26, 2005

Sermon preached by the Bishop of Colombo at the Service of Thanksgiving for the life and work of Hon. Lakshman Kadirgamar, Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister, at the Cathedral of Christ the Living Saviour, Colombo on 20th August 2005.

[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] 

My dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

The intention of our worship this evening is to give thanks to God for the life, witness and influence of Lakshman Kadirgamar, an exceptionally rare and accomplished human being, a man of great achievement and a gifted national leader. There is little doubt that when the time comes to record the history of this period in the life of our country, due recognition will be given to the immense contribution he made to both the life and image of Sri Lanka.

The text for our meditation is taken from S Paul’s epistle to the Galatians, Chapter 5 vs 1: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery”. This is the type of text that biblical scholars refer to as “subversive texts” in scripture. They are short texts placed in relevant places that challenge other dominant texts and prevailing trends. As they interact with the dominant, a more holistic and comprehensive stance emerges.

A question had arisen in the life of the early church. Was the liberation offered by Christ all sufficient or did it require additional prerequisites and accessories? Some Jews who had become Christians said, “Yes, something extra, something additional was necessary for one to be a full, or first class Christian.” For instance, they suggested that circumcision in accordance with Jewish law was essential for full Christianity. If not one was considered second class.

Our text is S Paul’s response to this ritualistic position. He is clear that the liberation Christ offers is all sufficient. No accessories are required, for there is complete freedom in Christ and Christ delivers persons from all types of bondage or slavery, be it cultural, economical, political, ideological, and so on.

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery”.

It is interesting that the word freedom as used in this text if translated colloquially would mean “freedoms”. So the text could also read, “For freedoms, Christ has set us free”. Liberation in Christ is a dynamic and ever widening experience and process. The individual is set free in widening circles and embarks on a journey in communion with Christ and others in which liberation grows from sphere to sphere. It is also a journey in which liberation inevitably spills out into wider society.

Any reflection on the life and contribution of Lakshman Kadirgamar, his world view and perspective, clearly indicates that he was one who had made the shift from slavery and bondage, to the spiral of freedoms, no doubt in Christ. For Lakshman was a man who could not be constrained under labels or restricted to any groups or ‘isms’. This is why some had difficulty with his ideological stance. They could not contain him in a defined camp. This is also why many, as is becoming abundantly clear, much clearer after the man’s death, see in him a personified model and vision of a just and liberated Sri Lanka. Here was a man who had embarked on a journey that we are all called to pursue. A journey in which if we can all participate, being liberated in widening circles, where there will be justice and sustainable peace for all.

Consequently, I wish to comment on one particular aspect of Lakshman’s liberative experience. This is partly because it was a dominant characteristic in him, but mostly because of its timely relevance for us today. This was Lakshman’s ability to deal with historical grievance: an immense problem for any society, including ours, that has experienced protracted atrocities, exploitation, oppression, violation of rights and dignity and continuing humiliation.

How does one deal with historical grievance? How does one deal with the ghosts of the past? Some would say ‘pick them up’ and use memory to incite and mobilise more support for your cause. Such persons and groups look upon history destructively. They use the evil of the past to perpetuate revenge and evil for today and tomorrow and so feed the spiral of violence and destruction.

There are others who say ‘Just forget about it. Let bygones be bygones. Something happened long ago, but we must get on with the future’. This is also a negative stance, for when grievance is superficially suppressed it explodes with much more ferocity and destruction later on.

The stance that Lakshman took was different and offers us a third option of looking at historical grievance in a manner that liberates us for the future. This was that atrocities must be remembered so that they may never be repeated; but they must be remembered in such a way that societies are redeemed and future generations set free. “Do not submit again to the yoke of slavery”. And so the stance for the people of this country, and indeed for any people caught up in historical grievance and constantly fed with thoughts of viciousness and revenge, is to remember in such a way that sustainable peace is a future reality.

So we do not remember death and destruction to continue killing. We do not remember oppression and violence to continue violence and oppression. We do not remember humiliation to perpetuate humiliation, and so on. Instead we remember with sorrow and regret and where necessary with apology so that our children may rise up, forgive each other, call each other blessed and live.

This is the point that the much loved parable of the “Prodigal Son” makes. Contrary to popular understanding, the central figure of the parable is not the prodigal son but the parent. There are three characters in this story; the parent and two sons. The story begins with the parent losing one boy and just as he comes back, he loses the other. When the younger brother returns repentant, the elder brother protests. The elder brother’s view of historical grievance is to remember destructively and in such a way that you continue to alienate the other. The parent is more creative. He wants community and peace. He does not, and cannot forget either; but he remembers so that there can be liberation and reconciliation. So he says ‘Your brother, my son, who was lost’ (this is the past with its pain and separation)- ‘is now found’- (this is the present, converted to recovery and reconciliation)- ‘ So let us rejoice.’- (the future can therefore only call for celebration).

But the elder son refuses to be liberated from his sense of historical grievance. So the parable ends not on the note we so often and faithfully acted out in Sunday School plays; where the younger brother comes home and the father throws a party, but with continuing estrangement and conflict. All that the parent desires is that his children should learn from the past and live in a reconciled relationship that brings peace and community. But this is prevented and he is left in deep sorrow.

This parable then is not so much about the prodigal son. It is about the sorrowing parent, which consequently gives us an insight into how God the Parent grieves when the children of God destroy each other. More specifically this is how God sees Sri Lanka in our continuing animosity and inability to revisit our past and be reconciled.

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery”.

I wish to make some concluding remarks.

1. Questions have been asked about Lakshman’s religious identity and answers have been attempted. Questions like this did not quite interest or intimidate Lakshman. Nevertheless, I suggest that we allow the words of Christ Himself to offer an answer. ”Not every one who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7: 21), and much more categorically, perhaps the clearest criteria that Jesus gave for identification of discipleship, “You will know them by their fruits’. (Matt 7.20)

2. The impact of historical grievance on our current political culture has from time to time led to theories of conflict resolution. There are three of these that we must mention but can never accept. The first is assimilation. “Just solve the problem by making everyone the same.” I was once in conversation with a very distinguished well meaning person who earnestly suggested that the solution to the ethnic problem lay in Sinhala education for all. It is possible to sincerely release cultural violence on others through the policy of assimilation. Another option that we have flirted with is annihilation. This is the call to war and the elimination of the other through the enemy syndrome. Through this stance we perpetuate killing and death, particularly of the poor, for it is not our sons and daughters who go to the front but the sons and daughters of the poor. Again and again the drums of war are beaten. Some support it, while many remain silent which is also tantamount to violence. The words of John Stuart Mills ring true in this instance, for “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.” The third option is that of separation. This is seen by some as a last resort having grown weary of attempting to live together and you may want to support this. But this is not the best option for Sri Lanka, for separation will deprive us of the tremendous potential and mutual enrichment that our respective cultures offer the whole. Decades of war have made us forget or appreciate less, the diversity of gifts contained in our pluralistic society. The affirmation and sharing of our respective cultures with dignity, however difficult, is a more honourable option than separation.

And so the only way forward is perhaps what Lakshman also pursued, and what is the best for all. This is “just integration” where there is interdependence, and every person’s dignity is respected in word and deed and there is space for all to live as equals and to participate in shaping the destinies of our peoples. In this framework the poor are emancipated and not allowed to live in slavery, the elderly, children and the weak are cared for with compassion and respect, and God’s creation, the environment, is protected and enjoyed with provision for all including those yet to be born.

Just integration, my dear sisters and brothers is true freedom for all.

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery”.

3. Jesus also said unless a seed falls to the ground and dies it cannot bear fruit (John 12:24). The mystery of life contained in a seed has lessons for us on the occasion of death. The seed dies, but it generates new life. So in Christ, life goes on through death into fuller life. The dying seed also signifies the dying of feelings that are natural in these circumstances. If we are to be liberated from the bondage of violence, we are called to forgive. Forgiveness is a part of the process of death and renewed life.

Very often, God uses tragedy to open the eyes and ears of men and women and to open new paths towards peace. If this were to happen because of the death of this illustrious son of Sri Lanka, then the seed that has fallen to the ground will bear good fruit.

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery”.

Rest eternal grant unto him O Lord and may light perpetual shine upon him. May he Rest in Peace. Amen.