Without This Bowl We Die

A sermon for All Saints’ Sunday preached on the occasion of presbyteral ordinations in the Anglican Diocese of Quebec

Mary Jo Leddy

Revelation 21:1-6a

John 11:32-44

In a recent film about the renowned Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, he relates some amazing facts about the reach of the breath that we breathe. Suzuki says that we now have evidence that the breath that we breathe out will enter into the space around us, gradually combine and recombine with other breaths, expand and travel. This process continues, he says, such that IN ONE YEAR our breath will have travelled around the world and back to us so that we will breathe in the breath we breathed out 365 days ago.

This is an astonishing fact. As are other facts that contemporary science offers for our meditation: we are breathing in the dust of stars, every moment. We are breathing in the breath of plants and animals, the breath of countless other human beings. The living and the dead.

It is one of our most ancient beliefs that we as Christians belong to a Communion of Saints, the living and the dead. We believe we are mysteriously, graciously, sustained by the goodness, the holiness, the justice of others. They are God’s breath among us now.

Today we celebrate this Eucharist with the Proper of All Saints. It is good and right that we situate the work of this particular synod in the longer and wider communion of the saints. The breath of the Spirit has been among us these past days.

The Communion of the Saints, now almost scientifically proven, reminds us of how intimately and practically we affect each other: with our actions, our words and deeds, our attitudes and the quality of our breathing. We affect each other for better and for worse:

For the better: which is why we must always give thanks. For the worse: which is why we must always seek forgiveness.

Il convient très bien que ce Synod se termine avec cette célebration eucharistique. C’est le moment pour nous de reconnaître la gratitude que nous nous devons et de les ratacher à la gratitude que nous devons à Jésus Christ.

We affect each other for better or for worse: which is why we need the Church community.

There are many images of the Church Community: the Church as institution, as prophetic witness, as sacrament, as a pilgrim people. Each of us has an image of Church that affects how we live, act, think and pray.

I would like to share an image of church that came to me a few months ago as I went with others on “A Christian Journey to Auschwtiz”.

The camp itself was horrifying in indescribable ways. The sheer facticity of its vast evil was undeniable. As we walked through the camp, we breathed in the dust and ashes of evil and sin, the dust and ashes of the innocent and holy ones.

We also visited a church about 10 km. from the camp, a Franciscan monastery that housed a remarkable collection of drawings in its basement.  They were the drawings of a Polish man, Marian Kolodziej, who had been taken to Auschwitz as a young man. After he was released from Auschwitz, he said nothing about his experience there. He worked as a set designer in the theatre, married, raised a family. Then, fifty years after he had been released from Auschwitz, Marian Kolodziej had a stroke. As part of his rehabilitation, he began to draw. And out of the depths of his imagination poured an astonishing series of drawing about Auschwitz. He drew for five years and filled the many walls of the church basement.

His story and his drawings were the subject of a documentary film, Labyrinth, that was nominated for an academy award two years ago.*

The drawings depict a descent into hell. They offer images of the innocent, the hopeless, the evil ones and yes, the saints. There is also an image of Christ who has descended into hell.

The drawing that has remained in my imagination is that of a group of prisoners raising their bowls to the heavens to catch some drops of rainwater.  In his commentary on his drawings, Marian Kolodziej,  explains the significance of the bowls. “Without a bowl you were nothing. Without a bowl you died”.

With a bowl, a prisoner could receive some watery soup that was the only source of nourishment. With a bowl a prisoner could receive the rainwater to drink. With a bowl, a prisoner could hold and save the soup and rainwater and even share it with others. With a bowl, a prisoner could urinate in the night so that the bed of staw would not dampen and mold.

Without a bowl, you could not hold the soup and water you needed. Without a bowl life fell through your hands. Without a bowl you could not share life. Without a bowl, you died. Without a bowl you stopped breathing.

Now, whenever I see a chalice being raised during a Eucharistic celebration, I see a bowl.

And I image the church as a bowl. Something real. Something to help us hold what we need to live. Without it life slips through our hands. Without it we cannot share our lives and give them away.

The bowl of the church may be old and rusty, it may need cleaning and polishing, but it helps us hold what we need. With it we hold life, sustain life, share life and give it away. Without this bowl we are nothing. Without this bowl we die.

Our gospel reading today retells the story of  Lazarus in the tomb. He was a man among the dead, in the dust of death.

La tentation de Jésus, notre tentation, est de tirer Jésus dans le tombeau sombre pour le tirer dans notre désespoir. Pourtant Jésus nous ordonne de sortir, de marcher, de parler, de vivre.

Jesus breathed upon him, as he breathes among us today, and says: Arise. Walk. Speak. Act. Love one Another.

*The film Labyrinth will be shown at Regis College, Toronto, Ontario, on March 6, 2013.

Dr. Mary Jo Leddy is the Founder of Romero House, a community dedicated to welcoming refugees in the City of Toronto. She is also Adjunct Professor at Regis College, University of Toronto, an active member of the Southern Ontario Sanctuary Coalition, and a member of the Order of Canada.

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