Thanksgiving for Lanka Nesiah by Bishop Duleep de Chickera
November 29, 2013, 8:30 pm
(Chapel of the Transfiguration, S. Thomas' College Mt Lavinia, 24th August 2013)
S. Johns gospel.Ch. 12. V.24; "Truly, truly, I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit."
We gather today as a community of relatives and friends in this Chapel that he loved so much, to honour and give thanks to God for Lanka; a most attractive, generous, intelligent and integrated human being.
This reflection will review his life as a disciple of Christ. It will also be my personal tribute to him. Lanka was not simply a good friend or close friend. He was a true friend. He more than any other outside my family and spiritual counsellors, knew and understood my shortcomings and frailties.
Understanding the "Sayings" of Jesus
Any serious study of the sayings of Jesus,usually reveal two levels of understanding. These are the immediate, with guidance for personal application; and the substantial with insights on wider human and social relationships. To reach the substantial we are to wrestle with the immediate. Nothing less than diligence is required if we are to discover the gems of the Gospel.
Jn. 12. 24 -is an appropriate example of this principle of the two layered understanding of Jesus' Sayings. The circumstances leading to the immediate understanding of this text are clear. Some Greeks wish to see Jesus. Being Greeks they most probably wished to talk with Him about His teachings, perhaps test their own thesis against His. Jesus suggests that theoretical discourse alone is insufficient to explain His teaching. His teaching calls for praxis. It is a call to selflessness and the best way to understand it is to live it for others. Such a life will make a difference but for this to happen it must become like the seed which is required to lose itself and die if it is to bear good fruit. Ultimately it is the praxis which will qualify the theory.
A selfless life
To say the least, Lanka's choice in life was for selflessness. His life made a difference to others. To be with him anywhere made others less anxious and more humane. He had this wonderful gift of sensitive anticipatory care; always looking to include those outside the circle,always concerned whether there was enough food and chairs for the event and particularly mindful of the needs of support-staff like drivers who had driven for long hours and needed a place to rest.
When we worked at the Bishops office it was Lanka who brought human need and dignity to the forefront above statutory formality and urgent protocol. His acts of loving kindness were many and hidden. But I know of at least one such act where he supported a deserving rural school boy cricketer with help for gear and travel.
He was generous to a fault and literally the first to go for his purse. He refused a salary at the Bishops Office in-spite of the corresponding, heavy responsibility he carried and finally accepted a pittance for travelling expenses.
A rare spirituality
The source of his selflessness came from a rare spirituality; which ought to be the quest of every human being. This was the ability to overcome the lure and enticement of the material. This is why he managed with little and gave away much. He was a truly liberated person and a sign of the new creation that Christ came to establish.
The Reign of God
When probed, the substantial understanding of the text conveys that Jesus, aware of the growing opposition to His teaching anticipated His assassination. The time for theoretical teaching was now coming to an end. The confrontation between compassionate-truth,which He stood for,and from which He would not deviate, and the violent greed of humans and the prevailing systems of structural violence, would eventually lead to His death. But like the seed which falls to the ground and dies to germinate and bear good fruit, His death will not be the end of the story; God would in fact use it to activate the Reign of God for all humankind. The resurrection would be proof of the new life possibilities in this new era.
The Reign of God in the teaching of Jesus amounted to a rearrangement of human relations and shared obligations which promised to provide equal space and dignity for all. It was to lead to the elimination of discrimination, violence and greed and the spread of justice, contentment and harmony. Since this rearrangement was pleasing to God, Jesus called it the Reign of God.
A life for justice and reconciliation
How does all this relate to Lanka' Lanka was more than all heart. He possessed a faith-reason perspective of discipleship in Christ which provoked a call to help bring about the Reign of God thereby making the world a better place for all. It was this vision that stirred Lanka till the end.
Much of Lanka's thought, work and writings set out the values of the Reign of God. They reflected the value of the other and a celebration of diversity,the non- violent engagement of all groups, dialogue with the "enemy" and reconciliation only through justice.
His column in the Island newspaper under a pseudonym drew from history and current affairs top lead for a safe, just and reconciled Sri Lanka. This column claiming to be from a no-body made every-body who read it,take note of this somebody. With atwinkle in the eye he kept his secret till the end.
His participation in the affairs of the Friday Forum always reflected the compassionate-truth of Christ. His passion for "Affirming Catholicism ", a small but serious study group of which he was convener, was sustained by its' inclusive vision of the Church. Much of the values of social justice, reconciliation, justice and peace in the Anglican Church during his time with us were influenced by him. In fact the Anglican Churches submissions to the LLRC had much to do with Lanka's values and drafting skills. This document will earn a place in the history of the Churches understanding of justice,peace and reconciliation over the past thirty years.
In-spite of these impressive interventions Lanka was at heart a modest person. He was at his best with small groups. He was a good listener, and stood his ground courageously even if his was a lone voice.His greatest legacy to us is his endorsement of the biblical prophetic tradition; his passionate voice for the voiceless and the persistent call to the authorities to accountability. This was the thrust of his life as a disciple of Christ and is indeed the time tested evidence of maturity in Christ.
The question we ask within ourselves is where is Lanka now? The immediate answer is that he is no longer with us in the flesh. We will not see him or hear him anymore. He will mostly remain an encouraging memory of a selfless disciple of Christ.
The Communion of Saints
But the substantial says more. Death is not the end of the story. Like that of His guru his life has borne fruit and Lanka is now with us in a new way. He continues with us in this new way to inspire us towards a better Sri Lanka for all. This real, inspiring presence of those who have passed is known as the Communion of Saints and this is enough for us. We need not attempt to describe the furniture of heaven.
He is not lost
So, one thing is certain for Malathi, Nagulan, Sangeetha and their spouses and children, and Devenesan, Pushpadevi, Nimaladevi and their spouses and Children, and all of us who knew and loved Lanka. He is not lost; he journeys with us and this is enough.
It is in this quiet and calm hope we give thank for a life lived well and to its fullest in the service of others. Here was a man of rare integrity, courage, compassion, intelligence and generosity. We thank God for Lanka.
- Bishop Duleep de Chickera