Sermon from Archbishop Fred Hiltz for National Indigenous Day of Prayer 2020
As we come to this sacred day in the life of our Country and in the life of the Church, it is wonderful to hear the song of the Psalmist.
The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.
The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
...the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
more than much fine gold,
sweeter by far than honey, than honey in the comb.
By them also is your servant enlightened,
and in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19: 7-11)
Here is song which is instructive and inspiring; spirited and salutary for all who would lead a holy life and contribute to the building of a healthy society.
Here is song which draws together the Readings appointed for today—The hope of Isaiah’s vision, the glory of John’s prologue and the wisdom of Paul’s counsel.
In keeping this National Indigenous Day of Prayer many of us are carrying in our hearts the disturbing imagery of police brutality toward Indigenous Peoples. In recent weeks we have seen:
the shootings of two young people in New Brunswick—Chantelle Moore and Rodney Levi.
the beating of Chief Allan Adam near Fort McMurray.
the slamming of an intoxicated man to the ground with the door of an RCMP’s truck in Nunavut.
the kneeing of a man already pinned to the ground by other officers in Edmonton.
What we see in the video footage of these incidents is a terrible violation of professional conduct in policing services. We see what seems to be a seething anger exploding with unfettered force. Sadly we see ugly manifestations of systemic racism now publicly acknowledged by the RCMP and others police forces as well.
Alongside the shameful acts of brutality for which these recent weeks will be remembered is the sad reality of statistics associated with missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada; the alarming vulnerability of young Indigenous women to human trafficking; the despair of young people drawn to suicide; and the astronomically high rate of incarceration of Indigenous men and women in prisons across Canada.
Surely the prayers we offer on this National Indigenous Day of Prayer, be they uttered from our lips or from deep within our hearts, will hold with tender regard the families of those who have lost loved ones. They will bear, I trust a spirit of solidarity with those who are walking the streets of huge cities and small communities in peaceful protest of police brutality and other expressions of racism in Canada and around the world. Many are the calls for decency, fair treatment and justice for all people. Many are the quests for a life in which none are pushed aside or held down. In the Gospel for today we hear John speaking of the life God intends all to enjoy. He introduces us to the theological concept of The Word, spoken and in time enfleshed and made known in Jesus. The life of which the evangelist speaks in the Prologue to his Gospel becomes its very theme from beginning to end. It is the essence of Jesus’ entire ministry—life that is new, abundant and eternal. It is the very stuff of the “I am “ sayings for which John’s Gospel is renowned and held dear in the hearts of the faithful.
Many prayers this day will be uttered with tears, others with deep lament and others with deep yearning for the healing of the land. A couple of verses from a hymn written by Fred Hellerman and Fran Minkoff come to mind:
“O healing river,
send down your waters,
send down your waters
upon this land.
O healing river,
send down your waters,
and wash the blood
from off the sand
Let the seed of freedom
awake and flourish,
let the deep roots nourish
let the tall stalks rise.
O healing river ,
send down your waters.
O healing river,
from out of the skies.”
( #578,Common Praise)
Alongside the stifling pain of systemic racism borne by Indigenous Peoples in Canada is the trajectory of their resilience and resolve to secure a better future for their children unto the seventh generation. We hear stories of tremendous courage through journeys of personal healing from trauma experienced in The Residential Schools. We see extraordinary grace in accepting apologies from the Church- apologies for having taken children far from home and family; apologies for physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; apologies for spiritual harm.
I think of that time on the Saturday evening of The Great Chapter Gathering in Wemindji in February when Kenneth Gilpin was speaking about Truth and Reconciliation. He called me forward and taking my hand he said “I forgive you.” We fell into one another’s arms in an embrace I shall never forget. And then at the outset of the Gospel Jamboree so many others came forward with a similar gesture. It was a very emotional time for many. Many wept. Many asked for prayers for healing. Many simply embraced me and I them. It was incredibly sacred time for all of us.
The next morning Kenneth translated for me as I preached. In the midst of the homily I slipped into his hand a little wooden cross- a sign of reconciliation and abiding friendship in the Lord.
Throughout Canada Indigenous Peoples are rising up in the spirit of their elders visions and in the comfort of the Isaiah’s word. While he speaks of the exhaustion of the people, being so overwhelming that even the youth faint and fall, he writes “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength . They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) This is a favorite text of many Indigenous Peoples, often quoted in story and song.
Done with being colonized and ostracized Indigenous Peoples are claiming their rights as reflected in The Articles of The Un Declaration (UNDRIP). The articles address health ,housing, education, career opportunity, preservation of languages, and spiritual traditions and the honoring of the principle of Free Prior and Informed Consent with respect to extraction of natural resources on ancestral lands.
In this trajectory of resilience we are seeing spirited leadership on the part of The Assembly of First Nations and the National Chief Perry Belgrade. We are seeing many Canadians. Indigenous and Settler alike laboring for that for which we we all pray:
“the chance of restoring the circle,
where justice walks with all,
where respect leads to true partnership,
when the power to change comes from each heart...
Hear our prayer of hope,
and guide this country of Canada
on a new and different path.” (Remembering The Children Prayer, 2009)
So dear friends, on this National Indigenous Day of Prayer we have much to ponder- some of which will move us to contrition of heart for the systemic racism that impacts attitudes toward Indigenous Peoples; some to solidarity of heart with them in righteous anger. Some will move us to renewed commitments to pursuing truth and reconciliation and the possibility of a more respectful and peaceful co-existence with the First Peoples of this land. And some I trust will draw us to consider afresh the counsel of St Paul who writes ”whatever is true whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable ,if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) Here is wisdom for nurturing good relationships among all peoples and for building healthy societies reflecting the will of our Creator. Lots to think about and act upon!
Let us pray...
“Lord, we hear your word with gladness:
you have spoken - we rejoice:
words of love and life and freedom -
help us make their truth our choice!” (447, Common Praise)