FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
400 years ago, in 1615, John Donne, already a famous poet, became an Anglican priest. In one of his many famous poems, he says:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Across Canada, we in the Anglican Church have been ringing the bells over the last weeks in memory of and in solidarity with First Nations victims of the attempted cultural genocide by successive government and church authorities, and to raise awareness about murdered and missing aboriginal women.
Our Primate, Archbishop Hiltz, said. “I think the value of the 22 days in terms of the stories [we heard] is that it gives a very complex issue in this country a face and a heart. These stories remind us of what’s behind all this and what continues to unfold in terms of the intergenerational impact of the residential schools and the conditions with which people in Indigenous communities and in downtown cores are living. They’re connected.”
Religion is about connecting, it’s about restoring wholeness, and the Incarnation of God in Christ put a whole new perspective on the way in which we serve and honour God, specifically by abandoning a self-centred and tribal agenda and opening up in generosity and compassion to all in need. In Christ, religion no longer offers an excuse for by-passing human kindness and responsibility in the name of God (see Mark 7: 11—12; Luke 10: 29–28). In Christ, your neighbour becomes yourself.
St Paul urges the Christians at Corinth, and by extension Christians in all times and places, not only to wake up and notice those who are struggling and suffering, not only to identify with them, but to take the risk of becoming one with them – to open the door, to share our resources – to resist the temptation and desire to want to put distance between ourselves and those who seem to be failing. As he puts it, this is the example set by Christ himself.
Leave me alone, some people say – it’s got nothing to do with me. Yes, it does, if there is any truth in John Donne’s poem, not to mention today’s readings. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process, painful as it may be to some, is a gift that allows us to open up in new ways, in exactly the way St Paul suggests.
The Primate said that “the #22Days campaign and bell ringing have had a ‘life-changing’ effect on many church members by opening up conversations about the residential schools and the issue of missing and murdered Indigenous women, while giving them a chance to get involved.”
In the first reading we hear David’s soulful lament in the aftermath of the battle that killed King Saul and Jonathan: “How the mighty have fallen!” David was one who allowed himself to feel – to think with his heart. In his song, he not only laments the end of his own friendship with Jonathan, but it could be seen as a lament for humankind in general, an existential comment about the ultimate weakness of human power, the foolish and destructive ways we choose to relate to each other, and the futility of human life in general. David’s lament reminds us that we are all in this together. Not even the elite and the powerful escape the effects of the human condition. Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
As we lament the devastation of colonialism, the residential schools, the reserves, the foster care system, the persistent racism, etc., we can acknowledge our own brokenness, our own darkness, and maybe find a new way for the light to shine through.
Leonard Cohen’s famous line from his song Anthem seems really appropriate as we reflect on the healing journey and on the Gospel this week:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
The way of Jesus is definitely not the way of perfection. When Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” he was speaking good news to the empty and dispirited ones, rather than the ones full of their own successes and superiority and status.
To the Corinthians, Paul actually boasts about his own imperfections as a means of grace, as a way of coming closer to Christ, rather than a cause for shame or rejection. He confronts the “superlative apostles” and their superficial, triumphalistic Gospel of success with the image of the Cross and the suffering Christ.
The Gospels make it very clear that the broken and imperfect and disconnected were able to connect with Jesus because they needed to – because they were people who recognized and admitted their own need and isolation and helplessness. Their vulnerability opened a place in their lives for the love of Christ to enter.
As Jesus, said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Jesus clearly made himself available to the ones that tend to be ostracized by the majority, the ones who have been thoroughly disabused of any sense that they are self-sufficient or self-righteous – the ones whose place in the community has been removed.
The woman reaching out to him would have been considered ritually unclean, offensive, even dangerous. Because of her disease, she would likely have been separated, kept a safe distance from decent folks. Isolation tends to be destructive and de-humanizing. As she is restored to health, Jesus calls her by an endearing and familiar term – “daughter.” The love of Jesus re-defines and restores the connection, the belonging, her sense of being part of the community again.
The Gospels are all clear on the fact that Jesus was a healing presence, that there was an aura about him, a radiance that generated resurrection and life. The woman instinctively, intuitively knew, that she just had to be near him, just touch his garment, to be influenced, to be cured. How many people think that way about our churches? Our clergy? How many people think that way about you?
This Gospel was not recorded just for historical purposes or just to show what a great guy Jesus was. The Gospel proclaims the importance of reaching out to Christ, with the urgency and humility of a man trying to prevent his child from dying; with the desperation of a woman who has suffered constantly for 12 years. This incident became an instruction to future faithful to identify with those in need, to see others with the eyes of mercy. It is always a helpful meditation to reflect on such a scene and cast ourselves in the various roles – in this case to be able to see ourselves being the one brought back to life, or as the woman healed of the chronic ailment, as well as the Christ figure who brings new life to those who come in contact with us.
What is that power that she tapped into – was it in Jesus or was it in herself already? Jesus tells her that her faith healed her. But what activated it? Her taking initiative to change her situation? Her faith on its own, in isolation, did not heal her, but in reaching out, demanding a place in the community, healing happened. I don’t know exactly how it came to be, but the story suggests it had to do with making the connection – restoring relationship, escaping isolation.
What I do know and believe is that that is the power we are meant to let loose in the world. It is the power of acceptance, the power of love, the power of reconciliation, the power of communion.
Like St Paul, we need to see the value in acknowledging our faults and brokenness, as a means of grace. In acknowledging the devastation that resulted from the residential schools, and the damaging role the churches played, representatives of the Anglican, Roman Catholic, United, and Presbyterian churches, said in a recent official statement: “understanding and addressing that injustice is a national priority for all Canadians.”
Bell ringing was a good start (initiated by St Paul’s Cathedral in Regina, where I was ordained priest). Diane Campeau, a native person who was ringing the bell there for her murdered brother and sister (one of 1181 murdered and missing women being lamented), said “It’s an issue and they [Canadian Government] can’t sweep it under the rug. It’s important. Things like this help us make the public aware, that we’re going to remember these women. Also, the young men that have disappeared . . . I think it’s great that the Anglican Church is taking that step and trying to reconcile their past mistakes and acknowledging that they’ve done wrong” (source: Eagle Feather News June 19/15).
Today’s Psalm says: “For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with God is great power to redeem.” Jesus was able to offer healing in good part because he was approachable – even people who had been rejected by the community could come to him, because he knew that everyone out there is someone’s son or daughter and meant to be part of the whole community.
People flocked to Jesus because he was a radiant, life-giving presence. Mother Teresa said to followers of Christ: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.”
As the TRC work continues, as we begin to try to respond to the 94 recommendations, the Church needs to reflect on how it can be a source of healing – a healing community – and how we can offer a new lease on life to people who are reaching out to us for healing, understanding, acceptance, and reconciliation.
I began with poetry, and I conclude with a poem by J.Janda called Mother Teresa of Calcutta
He is all
The Venerable Grant Rodgers+
Readings for Pentecost 6:
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said: Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen! Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon; or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult. You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more. From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty. Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
2 Corinthians 8:7-15 Now as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you–so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something — now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has–not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.”
Mark 5:21-43 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?'” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.