The tragic events of January 22, 2016 in La Loche, Saskatchewan shook our country, even as they shattered the lives of so many families.
Our friend, Adam Wood, was teaching in La Loche and lost his life on that day. Adam’s funeral was on February 6 at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church in Leaskdale.
Brian Walsh led the funeral and Sylvia Keesmaat preached. With the permission of Adam’s family and his partner, we share that sermon.
We are here together today
because of a loss of hope.
When our aboriginal brothers and sisters
despair of life,
when the suicide toll mounts
in the face of poverty,
lack of services,
lack of meaningful work,
and neglect by the government,
what else does that create
but a lack of hope?
And when that hopelessness overflows
we find ourselves in the face of death.
The death of the young people of La Loche,
Marie, Dayne and Drayden,
and the death of our friend, Adam Wood.
So where do we turn?
Where do we turn in the face of hopelessness,
in the face of death?
One place might be to a prophecy written
in the face of precisely such a loss of hope,
a word for a people in exile.
The people of Judah were conquered,
their land had been taken by imperial powers,
their children had been taken away,
they had been given new names,
they had been taught a new language,
and new stories,
they had been given new food.
The exiles from Judah
were treated in a way that could be the blueprint
for the Canadian residential school system:
new names, new language, new food.
And just like that system created trauma
from generation to generation,
so the exiles of Judah, those who decided to return
to their land,
were a people of trauma.
Their villages were in ruins,
their lands inhabited by foreigners,
they lived in poverty and in fear.
And in that situation of hopelessness,
Isaiah comes with a word of hope:
God will create new heavens and a new earth.
Notice that Isaiah doesn’t say:
“don’t worry, some day you’ll get to heaven
and everything will be fine.”
No, Isaiah promises a vision of a new earth,
a vision of this earthly life restored,
Isaiah pictures a city renewed,
a community with no crying or mourning,
a community where justice is practiced,
where the people will build houses that are livable;
and they will be at home.
This is a place where those who plant the food,
shall eat it,
rather than the theft of the fruit of the land
by those who have more power.
The people in this community,
shall enjoy the works of their hands,
meaningful work shall be theirs.
They will not give birth to children for sudden terror.
The terror of hopelessness,
and the terror of violence will no longer
threaten the life of their children.
For there will be peace, peace in all of creation.
It was an astounding vision, is an astounding vision.
And it is a vision that is only possible because of forgiveness.
How is it that God can create new heavens and a new earth?
Because of this, says the prophet:
the former things shall not be remembered
or brought to mind.
This is how the Bible talks about forgiveness:
those former sinful ways,
the injustices we engage in,
the violence that we, too, practice,
our unfaithfulness to the earth
and to each other,
all of it is forgotten and forgiven
in God’s new hope
for the earth and humanity on it.
Forgiveness for us.
Forgiveness for La Loche.
Forgiveness for our nation
with its double standard
between settler and indigenous peoples.
It seems too much to ask sometimes, doesn’t it?
Too much to believe,
too much to hope.
There is too much suffering
for pie-in-the-sky visions of renewal.
And when it seems too much to ask,
what can we possibly say?
It is tempting to walk away,
tempting to say that
this is the way of our world,
that violence will always triumph,
that hope is a false illusion.
It is tempting, isn’t it?
It is for me.
It is tempting to give up hope,
until we see a seed.
Tempting to despair,
until we see the people of La Loche,
with their incredible hope, and compassion and generosity.
It is tempting to give up hope . . .
until we see what resurrection looks like.
risen from death,
now on the new earth.
John’s vision at the end the Bible
is a vision of resurrection.
John describes the new heaven and new earth,
God coming down to live
on the earth with God’s resurrected people.
it is a picture of embodied earthly life.
There will be no more death,
no more crying, and mourning and pain.
All will be made new.
There will be a new city,
with a river with trees growing on either side,
trees with fruit,
trees whose leaves will be for healing.
This is a city with a sustainable forest,
a medicinal forest,
a place of growth and abundance,
the kind of place where Adam would feel at home.
And as I’ve reflected on this resurrection vision
over the last couple of weeks,
at night, lying awake,
thinking about Adam,
I’ve realized that
Adam knew about resurrection.
Not as an abstract thought,
but he knew what resurrection looked like
in his life and the lives of others.
that resurrection was rooted in the very fabric of the earth,
the very character of creation.
Building a compost pile together,
Adam knew that all of these seemingly dead things:
leaves, tansy stalks, chicken litter, manure,
all of these things in their death
provide new life for the bacteria, worms, nematodes.
Death to life; compost is about resurrection.
As he used the sawdust toilet down in our camping field,
Adam knew that he was creating fertility for the fields,
fields that he would harvest the hay from,
move the cattle on,
examine the grasses of.
As he and I discussed rotational grazing,
we were talking about resurrection:
how much cow manure does each of these areas need
in order to come back to life after grazing?
How can we help the earth to practice resurrection?
Adam knew about resurrection because he loved seeds.
It is no coincidence that the apostle Paul
used the image of a seed dying
to talk about the resurrection of the body.
Seeds are the constant miracle:
this minute little dry piece of matter cracks open
with only soil, sun and water and behold!
food for animals
and people and the earth.
Resurrection happens daily on a farm.
Resurrection is in the structure of creation.
Resurrection is what makes earth possible.
And Adam knew this.
Adam also knew about resurrection
through his work at Roots to Harvest.
He knew what happened when punks began to grow food.
He knew what could happen in the lives of young people.
And he knew about resurrection
because he lived and worked in La Loche.
He knew the resilience and generosity of that community.
He knew of the hopes that lived there.
He knew what resurrection looked like in his new home.
But Adam also knew about resurrection
because he was Adam.
His name, in Hebrew, means “earth creature”.
We are adam from adamah, Genesis tells us,
earth creatures from the earth.
Adam knew he was an earth creature,
because his name on our farm
was a loose translation of earth creature:
This was a name, as you can imagine, that made him smile
—even as he plotted his next practical joke on Finn,
who had named him so.
Adam knew that as earth creatures
one day we will—all of us— find ourselves
on the new earth that is described in the book of Revelation.
That new heaven and new earth
where all is made new,
where everyone has what they need
to flourish and live into new life.
This is the world that the people of La Loche hope for
along with the people of Clearwater River,
the world where Dene and Metis youth will have hope,
where the scars of the residential schools
will have been healed in new life,
where traditional ways of life are once more practiced,
where settler and first nation live in harmony,
where the young men who pull triggers are forgiven
along with the governments who created them.
This new earth is the home of the resurrected earth creature,
the resurrected Adam.
I know that Adam hoped for that day.
His whole life embodied that hope,
and dreamed the dream of resurrection.
I know he asked himself:
What would that vision look like in La Loche?
Clearwater River Dene First Nation?
Those are the questions that Adam asked;
this is the vision that Adam lived into.
Now, in the book of Revelation,
John invites us to live this vision with him.
One day, one day, we will be pruning
the fruit trees that John describes along the river of life,
those trees with leaves that are for healing.
Perhaps we will be pruning those trees
with pruning hooks
made out of the guns of our violent culture.
The swords turned into ploughs.
The violence forgiven.
Forgiveness is where the vision of resurrection takes us.
In Revelation there are gates,
gates that never close around the new Jerusalem.
And outside those gates
are the people that our society normally rejects:
—liars, thieves, young men who have killed others,—
all of them outside the gates.
But the biblical vision of resurrection ends
with an invitation of welcome to all people,
including those outside the gates:
Come, drink the living water.
Come into the city, through those open gates.
Be part of the new earth.
Come, be forgiven, find peace.
Come, help to cultivate this new earth that we are called to inhabit.
Forgiveness is at the heart of resurrection.
Adam knew this.
That is why he ended up at Roots to Harvest.
Why he ended up in La Loche.
He knew that there was a lot of forgiveness
that needed to take place.
Forgiveness for what we have done to the earth.
Forgiveness for what we have done to the poor.
Forgiveness for being complicit
in a culture of such inequality.
Forgiveness for creating a country
with no place for our indigenous brothers and sisters.
Adam knew he belonged to a culture
that needed forgiveness
and that he needed to be a part of the healing of that culture.
And because he knew he needed forgiveness,
he knew how to offer it,
how to be a person who forgives.
And so this is the challenge that faces us today.
How can we, too, be a people who forgive?
How can we be a people who listen
for the sound of resurrection?
How can we be the people who listen,
to the people of La Loche,
to the people of Clearwater River,
as they invite us to explore what resurrection means
for their communities,
for their elders,
for their children.
And so I picture Adam now.
He has found his place in that new earth,
the place he had been longing for while he was here.
He has a hat on his head,
dirt under his fingernails,
and a twinkle in his eye.
And one day he will hold out a shovel
to the young man who took his life.
He will hold it out and say,
“Come on, we’ve got some seeds to plant together.”
They will be seeds that grow into healing leaves.
They will be the seeds of resurrection.