Sunday, June 21, 2015

National Aboriginal Day - 21 June 2015

JUNE 21, 2015 Sr. Constance Joanna, SSJD 

Our readings this morning are about God’s work in creation and in history. And as we look around at our own world, we must all feel deeply what St. Paul says in the reading from Romans:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God . . . We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
What has God been doing in creation and history? Why do we look around and see war and torture and injustice and murder? Especially right here in our beloved country of Canada.

But maybe asking what God has been doing is the wrong question. As Paul says, the creation – and God – look for the children of God to be revealed – to stand up and be counted – to respond to God’s invitation to be co-creators of the new creation; to accept our responsibility to be agents of peace and justice.

Today we are celebrating National Aboriginal Day of Prayer – a day first set aside in 1971 by the General Synod of our national church to pray for the indigenous peoples of Canada. The date was chosen because the summer solstice falls on June 21, and for generations it has been a sacred day for aboriginal peoples, on which they celebrated their culture and heritage.

The other mainline churches followed suit, and in 1996, Governor General Romeo Leblanc declared this day a national day to recognize the contributions of Aboriginal peoples to this country of Canada. But our church was the first to recognize the importance of this observance.

Now the church has not always been a leader in society – quite often the church lags behind the secular culture, especially regarding issues of inclusion and justice. But over the past several decades the Anglican Church of Canada has taken some prophetic leadership in redressing the abuses of the residential schools and the government policy of assimilation with which the churches have often been complicit. The development of an alternative dispute resolution process for claims of former residential school students is one example, and Robert Falby, the former Chancellor of our Diocese and Prolocutor of General Synod who died just last week, was one of the architects of this process. Another example of our church’s leadership was the vote at General Synod in 2013 to repudiate the “doctrine of discovery” – the belief that the Europeans who migrated to this land had a right to dispossess those already living here. Our church has also created new structures for allowing indigenous Anglicans to have a measure of autonomy within the church structure, and has been a voice for justice in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Why is this so important today? Because we have just seen the completion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has been in progress since 2010. Like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa that followed the deconstruction of apartheid, our TRC has listened to the stories of people involved in the residential school system. The truth-telling has provided healing in many ways, but it’s only the beginning, and you need only to read the papers these past weeks to recognize the difference between healing and reconciliation. As many people have noted, individuals may find healing, but reconciliation is different. Reconciliation between immigrants to Canada (and that includes everyone who has come here since the 16th century) and the aboriginal peoples of Canada can only happen when there is justice for all: when our school curricula include the role of aboriginal peoples in our country’s history; when our justice system takes seriously the disappearance and murder of hundreds of aboriginal women; when land claims are taken seriously, when a just system is in place to give inhabitants of the land some say in its use for resource extraction, when all forms of racism are eradicated. When we, who are as St. Paul says the revealed children of God, accept our baptismal responsibility to work for justice and peace.

So much of this sounds like bad news. We have come so far, but we have so far to go – how do we keep from giving up in discouragement?

Well, Paul counsels hope: while the creation waits in longing for our adoption as children of God – we wait with hope, “for in hope we were saved” he says. And then he goes on with so many encouraging words: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.”

God sighs with us, God too longs for a day of justice for all people – whether it is the aboriginal people of Canada, the innocent people murdered in Syria, the victims of war throughout the Middle East, the young victims of racism and carding in our own city. Jesus came that we might have abundant life, and in his own walk to the cross, he carried our human frailty and sin on his back. And he continues to walk with us.

No matter how unjust things may be in our national life, our local communities, or our personal and family lives, Paul reminds us that “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God.” God does not create war and murder and injustice. But if we are open to the Spirit of God interceding for us, God can use us to create good out of all that has gone before.

And so in our prayers today we acknowledge our complicity in the injustices in our world, we pray that we may be agents of healing and wholeness ourselves by being open to the Spirit praying in us and showing us how we may help, and we celebrate the contributions of our aboriginal Canadians.

We must not forget that today is also Father’s Day. As we give thanks for our own fathers, for their contribution to our lives, we remember our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, and all those ancestors in faith who have shaped our lives for good. While not all people have been blessed with good and nurturing birth fathers, all of us can point to father figures in our lives who have blessed and guided us. That is a value very strong among aboriginal peoples. In fact one of the most important routes to reconciliation with our aboriginal brothers and sisters is to do everything that we can – as a nation, as a church, as individuals, to strengthen the bonds of family life that were torn apart through the residential school policies.

There was an inspiring article in The Globe and Mail last week written by John Ralston Saul, the co-chair of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and a prophetic voice in our country for justice for all immigrants to Canada. He is also the husband of former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson. In his article about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, he quotes the former national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Georges Erasmus, in an earlier report on aboriginal justice:
Canada is a test case for a grand notion – the notion that dissimilar peoples can share lands, resources, power and dreams while respecting and sustaining their differences. The story of Canada is the story of many such peoples, trying and failing and trying again, to love together in peace and harmony. But there cannot be peace or harmony unless there is justice.
In the gospel today, in what we know as the Beatitudes – the Blessings – Jesus lays out his vision for the Reign of God. Blessed are the peacemakers, the merciful, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for justice. That includes us all, aboriginal and immigrant, fathers, mothers, children. All of us are called in our Baptism to work for the Reign of God – to be peacemakers, to bring mercy, to comfort those who mourn, to support those who work for justice. That is a charge to us as Christians, and a message of hope.

And so we end with Paul’s reminder that “we know that all things work together for good for those who love God” and that we ourselves, who profess to love God, are called to be agents of love, healing and reconciliation for others.