Homily at the Dedication of the Stained Glass Window at St. Elizabeth’s, Sidney
February 28, 2016
I wish they had a sandbox in my church when I was growing up! I like this idea. Can you see what I wrote in there? H – O – P – E. Hope!
This is the beautiful season of Lent, of course, which is a time of Springtime journey; a journey with Jesus. A journey with the ancients of the Scriptures who invite us all, through Scripture, to walk ever more carefully with our God, and to walk ever more carefully with one another. The great command: To love God with our whole heart, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Lent is a time when we hit the ‘reset’ button on this journey, this beautiful journey, as envisioned in the First Reading. When God sees the plight of the people in Egypt, bound up in horrible tasks, slavery, and servitude. He sees the cry of the people, and He hears them, and He responds.
He responds to Moses. “I have seen my people, and I will come to them, and I will lead them. I will bring them out into a land flowing with milk and honey.” And this is the great journey of life: that we are able to be led by our God, who has created and blessed us, and to be led to something even more than the beauty and the wonder of Sidney, in the Saanich Peninsula. To be led to something even more than daffodils on southern Vancouver Island in February. Remember, I come from the Yukon! To lead us to something even more than cherry blossoms and water that never freezes, to lead us to the grace of communion—to the wonder of communion, to the beauty of communion, where every day is like being a child playing in the sandbox. I can hardly wait!
If you’re at the back of the church, you probably can’t see the footprints in the window. They get a little faint from further back—so I’m going to go up closer and point out something absolutely beautiful. There are three little footprints down here. And then they get a little bigger a little further up. There’s still three of them. It’s an odd person who’s got three feet, but that’s OK, because it’s three here and three here, and two there, and then we get all the way up to the top and there are three more . . . with a stick! I guess it’s what happens when you get old. You end up with a stick. Or you become a Bishop and get one like that.
Our life, this journey on planet earth, is a lifetime of growing and learning ‘communion’. To be in communion, the kind of deep communion that we had in the womb—an utter life-giving communion with our mothers. It’s an essential communion of being together and yet distinct in our own DNA and individuality, but it’s a communion essential for life itself.
And then, of course, as we get going, we’re in this thing called a ‘family’, where nurture and communion continue in a wonderful and essential way. Without my mom going shopping every Friday night, it would have been a desperate life. Without my brother teaching me how to say, “I’m sorry,” (brothers are wont to fight a lot when they’re close in age), I would have never learned the grace of ‘sorry’, or learned the brilliant gift of patience which serves me well. I might not have learned the wonderful gift of receiving and giving love around the dining room table. All of this communion is nurtured in family.
And then something happens. I suppose you could say the bird’s leaving the nest, and then there’s only two feet, and not three. There’s something that happens to all of us: we grow in autonomy. You’re a rugged individual, if you’re a Canadian from the true north, strong and free. You do it on your own. You pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. God watches mercifully as, in our rugged autonomy, we mercilessly step on each other’s toes as we seek to live by virtue of competition rather than cooperation. As we seek to somehow free ourselves from our own slaveries of sin and brokenness.
There’s something that happens in middle life. We begin to think autonomy is the goal of life. It becomes, in our society, a radical choice of complete and utter autonomy without reference to our Creator or reference to our community: I will choose. I will make manifest my will on this earth. And, oh, the horror of it all, as we’ve seen these autonomous footprints seek great power, crushing the weak and the poor, destroying the earth, manifesting this rugged individualism to the point where we now as a planet collectively cry out, “What are you doing to my garden?”
And yet, God, in His infinite patience, watches it all, and when we get so fragile and broken, God picks us up. We know that beautiful poem, Footprints, and we look and we say, “Oh God, when I had utterly and completely and totally messed up my life, my brother’s life, my family’s life, my community’s life—where were You?” And we know the response of God, “My child, it is then that I carried you.”
Gently, like the gardener with the unfruitful fig tree, He prunes, digs—even a little manure never hurts—and once again, brings us back to communion and life. Gently, mercifully, God is bringing us back to communion, to that beautiful communion we experienced at the very beginning of our existence, and yet so often reject in the middle years by virtue of a radical autonomy.
I love this window. It speaks so powerfully to the journey, to the plan, to the simplicity of the unity of our DNA in God’s mind and vision, like the millions of grains of sand that create a carpet, a place for the Bishop to draw words.
We have to be careful when we walk on this earth, that we’re not stepping on each other’s toes. We have to be careful with our neighbours across the street, who never cut their lawn and who leave their garbage on your side of the sidewalk. We have to be careful. God said to Moses, “Take off your shoes; this is holy ground.” We have to tread gently with each other and with our planet, because this, too, is holy ground.
And finally, just to demonstrate the grace, and yes, sometimes the struggle of being in communion, I want to show you something. I wondered why there were three footprints and not four, and then there are three footprints at the very end. I’ve got it figured out, Fr. Rolf, but I need a little help here.
Bishop Gary selects two volunteers. Come on up here, boys, stand there, and face the back of the church. Get a little closer together. The Bishop ties two of their legs together. OK, now, you’ve got to get down to that end, and back without falling. The boys walk a three-legged walk down the aisle and back.
Now, watching these boys, you’ll notice something. Before they could even start, they had to have a little conversation. It’s not so easy to be in communion. But it’s a beautiful thing to watch, when we’re in step, when we’re close, we are in fact growing in love. It takes some conversation, it takes a little cooperation, sometimes we even have to hold on to each other so we don’t fall.
That’s the journey of Lent. That’s where we’re going. It’s the great journey of life. It’s our journey to our God, who wants to deliver us from autonomy, who wants to deliver us from isolation, who wants to deliver us from the slavery of being alone. He wants to bring us into love, into mercy, into compassion, into His big sandbox—because God delights when His children play together in the Earth of His garden.
In this journey, trust the light of Christ. A powerful light. A bright light which is at the very center of this window. Jesus: a light to the nations, a hope for our planet, and a hope for our lives.