I will not forget Jack Layton’s state funeral in Toronto in August. As the national anthem was sung, we were united in grief and pride and thanksgiving for a life well lived in the service of our country and its place in the world. There were other great moments of song that lifted our hearts and renewed our resolve to be grateful for our heritage and to be faithful to those ideals that hold us together from coast to coast to coast.
Among the many voices that paid tribute to Jack was Stephen Lewis, who delivered his remarks with all the conviction for which he is so well known. Commenting on Jack’s passion for building a nation that is inclusive and generous, and a world that is just and peaceful, he said that through this leader’s labours and those of all who worked with him, “respect for all and respect for the earth are being brought back to life.” His words are as powerful for me now as when they were first spoken. Indeed, they are shaping my approach to Thanksgiving this year.
“Respect for all” means that as we rejoice in the blessings of harvest, we must not forget those who are in want. As Psalm Prayer 135 reads, “Deliver us from every temptation to be satisfied with false imitations of your will…thanks for plenty that leaves the poor unfed….” Respect for all should move us to a passion for human rights, for adequate food, shelter and health care for all. It should move us to a renewed resolve to end poverty at home and throughout the world. It should inspire our labours for that day when violence shall no longer be heard in the streets, that day when all dwell unafraid for themselves and for their children.
“Respect for the earth” means that we treat it with care. It is ours not to plunder but to tend; it is ours not to destroy but to steward. Respect for the earth should move us to greater concern about our part in accelerating climate change. It should renew our resolve to take steps to ensure environmental stability for the benefit of generations who come after us.
To what extent, I wonder, is respect for all and respect for the earth “being brought to life” in my way of living? Beyond the repentance to which I am certain my pondering will lead, I pray for renewal-that I be more intentional in tending to the needs of others with compassion and in tending to the earth with care.
Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.