Image: Children’s shoes memorialize discovered gravesite of 215 Residential School students.
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It is an opportunity to reflect upon the gift of the Eucharist which we share together each Sunday as we gather and receive the sacred bread of communion, Christ’s body broken for us.
The readings today talk about the Covenant, or promise, between God and us. In fact, there were many Covenants. The first reading speaks about the Covenant established when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments that were etched in stone. These were the laws that God gave to the people so that they would live and prosper together in the promised land that God was giving them. As a sign of the promise, the people were marked with the blood of an ox, a visible symbol of their understanding of the laws and that they would keep them. Unfortunately, blood washes off and people are not always good at keeping promises.
God keeps his promises but, as human beings we often fall short of doing what we have promised that we do.
This past week we learned of the uncovering of an unmarked gravesite which contained the bodies of 215 children, children who were students from the Indian Residential School in Kamloops, BC. The Residential Schools were established as a promise between the Government of Canada, the Church, and the Indigenous people in Canada. The Government and the Church promised that we would provide a better way of life for the children, we promised to care for them, to educate them and to ensure a good future for them. But we broke our promise and we failed in our responsibility to protect those children. The promise was broken, and the lives of generations were devastated.
As a bishop of this diocese I acknowledge the broken promises of the Church with regard to the Indian Residential Schools in this territory. I have heard and I believe the accounts of abuse, neglect, and disrespect of the survivors of the schools as well as those who did not survive and were left unattended in an unmarked grave. I acknowledge the suffering that has been endured and continues to endure. I am deeply ashamed and repentant for the promises that have been broken.
How do you fix a broken promise? How do you gain back a trust which has been so damaged?
When the people broke the Covenant that Moses had established with the Lord, God was angry. God wanted to lash out and destroy the people and he had every right to do so. But in the end God relented and God took it upon himself to offer another chance and to establish a new Covenant, but in a different way. This time God offered the blood of a sacrifice that could not be washed away. He gave us his Son, Jesus, who offered himself on the cross so that our relationship with God might be new again. Through Christ, the laws which God gave to Moses on tablets of stone were now to be written on our hearts so that they might never be broken again.
We are not God. It is not so easy to forgive a broken promise. It is much easier to stay angry then to find a way to forgive and start again. But we can, with God’s help.
If you are a survivor, on behalf of the Church I would like to say that you are loved. I am sorry for how you and your family have been hurt by the Church. I ask your forgiveness and for you to keep sharing your story with those who have not yet heard it.
The response I encourage from the rest of us at this time is to be listeners. It is not an easy task when we come face to face with pain, sorrow, and anger. We carry these feelings ourselves along with guilt and shame for wrongs which were committed of which we did not take a part, and yet we represent a church which was a part. It is our place in history to atone and to help to make a change toward a better future.
The Eucharist is a reminder to us of Christ’s sacrifice, his body broken for us that we might be forgiven for the wrong that we have done and that we might forgive one another so that Christ’s broken body might once again be made whole. As we receive the gift of Christ’s body together let us pray for the forgiveness that we need and for the ability to forgive. Let us pray together for the healing that is needed and for the restoration of all that which has been lost.