Today here in Canada is the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. It is to remember the 14 women who were murdered for just being women at a university in Montreal on December 6, 1989. They were all engineering students and the man who killed them said that feminists had taken his life away. It is one of the biggest massacres that has ever happened in Canada. It started a conversation here about violence against women and about gun violence, it is a conversation that we are still having.
In 2009 I was asked to preach at Christ Church Cathedral for the 20th anniversary of this day. I recently found my sermon and thought that it was worth sharing here. I hope that it touches you, I hope that you are pushed to action. If you want to find out how domestic violence has affected one particular person, then please check my sister’s blog Freedom Within
A Service of Remembrance: 20th Anniversary of the Massacre at Ecole Polytechnique
St. Nicholas Day
Judges 11: 30-40
1 Corinthians 13: 1-13
Mark 7: 24-30
“Faith, hope, and love abide, these three: and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13
Here is a story of love. In a country far away and in a time long ago there lived a poor family. The parents had been blessed with the arrival of three daughters in their family. They loved their girls, as much, if not more than any parents had ever loved their children. In the time that they lived, it was up to the parents to provide a bridal gift, a dowry, to the parents of the young man who was going to marry their daughter. Unfortunately the parents did not have enough money to be able to provide for their daughters. After a long, agonizing time the parents decided that their only option was to sell their daughters into slavery. The mother cried many tears. The father became stony quiet with grief.
In the community where they lived there also lived a bishop, whose name was Nicholas. This bishop heard the story of this family. His heart was moved. Nicholas decided that he needed to do something. He gathered enough money to make three bags that would make their bridal gifts. Late one night before the girls were to be sold Nicholas threw the bags of gold over the fence. In the morning the family discovered the gift and the girls were saved.
Here is a story of hope. Twenty years ago today a young mother was holding her tiny baby girl in a small town in southern Saskatchewan. As she did most days she had her radio tuned to CBC. It helped to remind her that life was not all about babies. That day she was listening to the radio in the late afternoon as the news began to come forth that a young man a had gone through the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and that he had targeted and killed women only. This mother looked at her baby girl and tears welled up in her eyes. She thought of all the mothers who would be weeping that day. At that moment this mother determined that she would speak out about violence against women, that she would raise her daughter to be strong and able to make her own decisions.
That baby girl is now a young woman of 20, a university student in southern Ontario, an activist, a person of hope, someone who continues to make me proud to be a mother and gives me hope for the future.
Here is a story of faith. A woman lived in the region of Tyre with her little girl. The little girl had something wrong with her. It was like she was possessed by a demon. The mother was worried out of her mind. She just wanted her little girl to get well. Jesus decided that he needed a break. He went to a house in the Tyre region where he thought no one would notice him. Yet, Jesus being Jesus, could not escape the notice of the people living in the area. This mother heard that Jesus was there. She had heard that Jesus was a great healer, one who came with God’s power to save. She decided that she needed to go and ask him for help. What mother wouldn’t do the same?
When she came into the house, she bowed down at Jesus’ feet. She was that desperate. She begged Jesus to heal her daughter. Now remember, this mother was not Jewish. She was a Greek. Jesus said to her, “The children need to be fed first. It is not fair to take their food and give it to the dogs.” This mother had great grit and did not back down from Jesus at that. She told him, “Even the dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs from the plates of the children.”
At that point Jesus said, “For saying that, your daughter is well. Go and see.” This mother left and found her daughter well and normal.
Just as the women of Israel would gather to remember and lament Jepthah’s daughter, today we gather to remember and to lament. We remember and lament the 14 young women who were murdered today just because they were women, for no other reason, just because they were women. We remember Genevieve, Helene, Nathalie, Barbara, Anne-Marie, Maud, Maryse, Annie, Michele, Ann-Marie, Sonia, Maryse, Annie and Barbara.
We need to remember and lament the missing and dead women from Vancouver’s East Side – many of whom were from First Nations communities. We need to remember and lament the missing and dead women along the “Highway of Tears” – the #16 highway that goes between Prince George and Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia – many of whom are from surrounding First Nations communities. We need to remember and lament Hillary whose body was found this fall. A young 16 year old woman from the Miqmaq First Nation in Burnt Church, New Brunswick. If you look on the internet and go to a site called Missing Native Women, you will find name after name of missing and murdered women from all across Canada. The numbers are staggering, over a thousand women. Remember and lament each of their lives.
What many of these women have in common is that they come from small, isolated northern communities. Communities that make up the part of the church that I live and work in, the Council of the North. It is a tragedy that haunts the lives of our people, of our clergy and especially our youth. Remember and lament.
These are not isolated incidents. Looking around the world we are called to remember and lament many stories. The girls in Afghanistan who cannot go to school because they are afraid of acid being thrown in their faces. Just because they are girls who want to get an education. We need to remember the victims of feminicido – the murder of women – in Mexico; especially Alicia Gomez Lopez who was recently murdered and is the niece of a Primate’s World Relief & Development Fund partner. Remember and lament.
While it is important for us to take the time to remember and to take the time to lament before God the losses that have touched us, it is not the place that people of faith are supposed to stay. Christians like you and me are called to do something more.
Sisters, like the gritty, determined woman living in Tyre we are called to a strong and bold faith that speaks out on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. Sisters, who will you speak out for? Sisters, who will you speak to and change their mind just like the Syrophoenician woman did with Jesus? Be of strong and bold faith my sisters.
Brothers, like Nicholas, you are called to acts of generous, loving service for those who are in need. Brothers, who will you act for, which life will you try to save? Brothers, what life story have you heard that challenges you, makes you think, moves your heart that you need to take action on? Be generous and loving in all that you do my brothers.
Cast your burden upon the Lord,
You will be sustained,
The righteous will not stumble.