“Naming and Remembering” a Sermon at Holy Trinity, First Sunday in Lent/Valentine’s Day
by Suzanne Rumsey
Suzanne Rumsey is the Public Engagement Program Coordinator at the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) associated with the Anglican Church of Canada and attends (Anglican) Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto.
From “Lullaby,” by the Dixie Chicks
How long do you wanna be loved?
Is forever enough? Is forever enough?
How long do you wanna be loved?
Is forever enough?
‘Cause I’m never ever giving you up.
When [I was] asked me to preach on this first Sunday in Lent and this Valentine’s Day, I asked how she might like me to focus my reflections. She wrote the following:
“My hope is that the preacher can talk about the temptations that we experience at [Holy Trinity]. Stones into bread. Political power. And the one that I think we seldom identify: our temptation to suicidal behaviours. What are we doing to tempt our own fate? Do we think we have a lock on our survival? As humans, settler Canadians? Anglicans? Holy Trinity? Do we need to consider our responsibility to use our lives? How does that sound?”
To which I replied:
“Wow, and I thought it was all about the love (kidding)! Okay, I will give this some thought and do my best with the challenge you present.”
And then, a few things happened on the way to this sermon…
Last Saturday Robin and I volunteered at the Hart House [University of Toronto] indoor triathlon. Our job was to count the laps of the runners on the gym track and to cheer the runners on. In triathlons the run is the last event. As a very amateur triathlete I know from experience that it’s the ‘wilderness’ of this endurance event when one’s body, which has already swum and cycled asks, “You want me to do what now?!” There’s a real temptation to want to give up and while it’s never happened to me, competitors have been known to throw up while running. So Robin, enthusiastic cheerleader and master of the catch phrase, came up with a great one for our runners: “Keep it up and don’t throw up!” (I want that printed on a t-shirt!)
Wilderness and persistence… and resisting the temptation to give up…
But I think Robin’s best-ever catch phrase when we were late again for church one day and he was SLOWLY tying his shoes and I was being impatient was, “Mom, be the patience within you.”
And then I dipped into the Lenten Series Workbook from the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, MA. In the introduction to “Growing a rule of life,” Geoffrey Tristram, the society’s superior writes,
“…Even in our spiritual lives, in our relationships, and in our attitude toward ourselves, we tend to be in too much of a hurry. If we don’t see immediate results from some project or plan, we can feel discouraged and give up. So too, we often judge the progress of God’s kingdom by what we see happening right now around us – and sometimes, it does not look very promising… Growth asks us to be patient. When we rush through our life, hastening from one task to the next, we can miss – and even thwart – the deep work of God that is burgeoning all around us and, especially, within us.”
Wilderness, persistence and patience… and resisting the temptation to rush through our lives…
And then on the way to this sermon Sherman circulated on the Holy Trinity listserv an article from the National Catholic Reporter titled “Extradition order in Jesuit priest killings could lead to more arrests”.
Some of you may remember that in November 1989, at the height of the civil war in El Salvador, the Salvadoran army massacred six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in their residence at the Central American University (UCA) in San Salvador. About six months later, I made my first visit to El Salvador and together with partners from the UCA’s human rights office, visited the residence and the grounds where the massacre had taken place. New rose bushes, six red and two white, had been planted by the housekeeper’s husband who was a groundskeeper at the university. Over the years I made repeated visits to that ‘sacred’ place, seeing the rose bushes grow under his care.
Recently arrests for extradition to Spain of a number of the perpetrators and the intellectual authors of that massacre, were finally made in the United States and El Salvador. Justice can sometimes take a very long time. But maybe, just maybe, it is finally being realized in this case.
Roy Bourgeois, former Maryknoll priest and founder of School of the Americas Watch is quoted in the article:
“Over the years, we’ve heard the stories of so many Latin American people, about their fear, their suffering, the deaths of their loved ones,” he said. “Yet they always had such hope. It was hard to understand. But they always felt that one day the truth would come out, that justice would come, that the lies couldn’t be kept covered up forever. It brings me joy that they were right, but it’s sad that after all these years, so many people won’t see it.”
Wilderness, persistence, patience, and hope… and resisting temptation to despair…
The names of the six Jesuits are well-known and often repeated:
Ignacio Ellacuria, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Segundo Montes, Juan Ramón Moreno, Amando López, and Joaquín López y López.
But who remembers the names of “the housekeeper and her daughter”:
Julia Elba Ramos and Celina?
And who remembers the name of Julia Elba’s husband who over the years lovingly tended the rose garden and their memories: Obdulio Lozano?
I looked on line for any information about Obdulio’s fate, but found none. So I wrote to an old friend, Canadian Lutheran mission staffer Brian Rude, in El Salvador, to ask if he knew. This was his response:
“Obdulio is as alive as ever, in my mind and heart, but, unfortunately, no longer alive physically. He died at least 5 (10?) years ago. I remember him with respect and admiration each time I visit the rose garden, and tell other visitors about him. The most moving part of the Jesuit vigil for me was always hearing him tell his moving story with passion, by his rose garden, especially to campesinos who shared his spirit, and much of his journey, but who were in San Salvador–and at the UCA–for their first time.”
And who remembers the names of the 75,000 people killed during El Salvador’s 12-year civil war? In its report on El Salvador’s civil war, “De la locura a la esperanza, – From Madness to Hope” the United Nation’s appointed Truth Commission named and remembered some of those 75,000. (Show report)
Wilderness, persistence, patience, hope, remembering… and resisting the temptation to forget…
One of the lesser-known projects that the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF, where I work) has supported over the years is carried out by The Committee for the Protection and Promotion of Children’s Rights (CPPCR) that runs a centre in Thailand to register the births of the children of Burmese migrant workers and refugees. This work provides the
children with an official “identity” in order to facilitate their education in Thailand and to protect them from falling victim to child trafficking.
“A name is the first and final marker of individual rights,
one fixed part of the ever-changing human world.
A name is the most basic characteristic of our human rights:
no matter how poor or how rich,
all living people have a name,
and it is endowed with good wishes,
the expectant blessings of kindness and virtue.”
Those words, written by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, appeared in his 2013 “According to What?” exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. They appeared alongside a wall of 5,000 names of children who perished when their poorly constructed schools collapsed during the May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake. In the wake of the disaster the Chinese government refused to disclose the death tolls or identities of students who were killed. In response Ai Weiwei launched the “Citizens’ Investigation,” visiting the region and gathering names from families and communities. A voice recording of the 5,000 names accompanied the wall and takes 3 hours and 41 minutes to name them all. The Citizens’ Investigation continues to gather names.
And then on the way to this sermon, a few days ago, while meeting with Henriette Thompson, Director for Public Witness for Social and Ecological Justice at the national office of the Anglican church, she showed me the six-volume report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that had just arrived. While the report does not contain individual names, the TRC’s Calls to Action 71 to 76 demand that the churches and government ensure that the victims and survivors of the Residential Schools are named and remembered in a variety of ways.
And through the Homeless Memorial, Holy Trinity has been at the centre of efforts to name and remember those women and men who have died on the streets of Toronto since 1985.
Wilderness, persistence, patience, hope, naming and remembering… and resisting the temptation to reduce individual lives to statistics…
Pretty much all my best theology these days comes from kids’ movies. So on the way to this sermon Robin and I went to see Kung Fu Panda 3. There’s Po, a.k.a the Dragon Warrior, trying to figure out who he is. You see Po is an orphaned giant panda who was raised by a duck who takes 20 years before explaining to Po that he’s adopted. (It’s a movie!)
In this third movie in the series, Po’s birth father turns up and Po discovers that he was actually named Little Lotus at birth. He returns to the Valley of the Pandas, meets other pandas for the first time, but struggles to know who he is. Then, spoiler alert, he takes on Kai, the bad guy, who has come back from the spirit realm
to take everyone’s “chi,” or life force, from them. Po takes Kai back into the spirit realm for the ultimate battle and as Kai tries to take the ‘chi’ of the Dragon Warrior, Po’s community of pandas send their own ‘chi’ to him in the ‘wilderness’ of the spirit realm, remembering, naming, hoping, patiently persisting and loving him back to life and to their world. You can guess who wins the ultimate battle!
In the gospel reading today, Jesus takes on a similar battle, in the wilderness, with a bad guy, and wins. In Matthew, we are told that this follows his being baptized by John and ‘named’ by the Spirit of God as “my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well-pleased.” But it is also the Spirit that leads Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted.
I think there’s a whole other sermon in unpacking those two events, but for now I will simply offer a question that Matthew doesn’t answer: Who is the community that Jesus goes out into the wilderness from, and who is it that receives him back after his 40 days?
Wilderness, persistence, patience, hope, naming, remembering, loving… and resisting the temptation to fail to love those among us into WHO THEY ARE…
We here at Holy Trinity are called to love, remember, name, hope, patiently persist, and then we are called to continue the slow work of wilderness journeying that we do as a community in this place, and in our lives beyond this place through this season of Lent.
And so now that the story about the journey to this sermon is done(!)…
I do want to finish with ‘the love,’ with that slow, patient, constant love of years expressed in two very different ways. The first is from Fiddler on the Roof. About a million years ago when I was a high school student, I played Chava the third daughter, in a high school production of the musical. Chava is Tevye the father’s favourite, but Tevye disowns her when she marries a Gentile; his love for her limited by “Tradition” that binds their persecuted Jewish community together. And then there is the love between Tevye and his wife Golde:
“Do you love me?”asks Tevye of Golde one day.
“Do I what?” she replies.
“Do you love me?”
“Do I love you?…”
Golde thinks Tevye is asking the question because he has indigestion. Then she goes on about all the things she’s done for and with him for 25 years, concluding with:
“Do I love him? For twenty-five years I’ve lived with him Fought with him, starved with him Twenty-five years my bed is his If that’s not love, what is?”
To which Tevye replies, “Then you love me?”
“I suppose I do.”
“And I suppose I love you too.”
“It doesn’t change a thing,
But even so,
After 25 years,
It’s nice to know.”
And finally, this love poem from my favourite poet and farmer, Wendell Berry, to his wife of 59 years, Tanya…
How joyful to be together, alone as when we first were joined in our little house by the river long ago, except that now we know
each other, as we did not then; and now instead of two stories fumbling to meet, we belong to one story that the two, joining, made. And now
we touch each other with the tenderness of mortals, who know themselves: how joyful to feel the heart quake
at the sight of a grandmother, old friend in the morning light, beautiful in her blue robe!