The 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart begins with these words:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs… This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples... With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
There is a similarity to be found in these words and the words we heard today from the Prophet Zechariah, who spoke of another people’s sovereignty, that of God’s people:
Rejoice heart and soul, daughter of Zion! Shout with gladness, daughter of Jerusalem! See how your king comes to you... He will proclaim peace for the nations. His empire shall stretch from sea to sea, from the River to the ends of the earth.
God spoke ‘from the heart’ in honouring the people he had chosen as his own, for He had made his ‘spiritual home’ among them. The Lord saw their labours and burdens, especially those of the little ones by a worldly measure – the ‘mere children’ in whom God was delighted. God found his presence by being present to the battlers and the humble, who were surely battling to find their place in the land in which they lived.
Our First Peoples of this Great Southland of the Holy Spirit have not marked their ancient presence in this land by establishing monuments or institutions. Their presence has indeed been a humble one, evident not in static structures but in the dynamics of family bonds, shared rituals and a common identity. These are the same markers which ought to show forth in a Christian people.
Therefore, the cry for recognition from our Indigenous people should not be unfamiliar to God’s pilgrim people. We all desire to learn the way of simplicity and trust, and to be at home in our location. We all will find our deeper roots of identity in the parenthood of the one Creator, our Father, who invites us all to come under his yoke and to find rest in Him.
Out the front of our Cathedral, set in the pavement, is an aboriginal symbol of God, and over in the Eastern transept is an aboriginal message stick of spiritual welcome. These markers speak to me of a shared identity of God’s little ones, and a common hope.
Given our deeper bonds that unite, might it be especially the task of God’s People to work with Australia’s First Peoples in finding pathways towards reconciliation, just outcomes and right living? How can we welcome God’s first peoples, as we are welcomed to country in this ancient land? How can we learn to recognise one another, be reconciled with each other, and walk together in a sharing of life?
The Uluru Statement from the heart concludes with these words: “We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”
Might we not see in this heartfelt invitation a humble expression of the invitation from God made to all of us? “Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest… [For] my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
Archbishop Peter A Comensoli27 January 2021