God, may we speak the Truth in love, and walk in your way towards justice and wholeness
Juneteenth (short for “June Nineteenth”) marks the day when US federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas in 1865 to take control of the state and ensure that all enslaved people be freed. In the US, during the civil war, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 declaring that "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebellious states "are, and henceforward shall be free." Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators.
Confederate General Robert E. Lee had surrendered at Appomattox Court House two months earlier in Virginia, but slavery had remained relatively unaffected in Texas—until U.S. General Gordon Granger stood on Texas soil and read General Orders No. 3: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free” a full two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Until that point the people of color in Texas were still held as slaves even though they had technically been freed. It wasn’t until General Granger arrived in force that the freedom became a reality. It took time. It took time from the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Time and effort and tremendous sacrifice.
Robert Lee and the Confederacy were defeated and it still took time, it took the continued work and sacrifice of many, it took the Union troops and continued as a struggle for justice that moved through the Civil Rights movement and the Black Lives Matter marches of the present. Three days ago, Juneteenth was declared a National Holiday in the US.
Today is Sunday the 20th of June, the day when we celebrate the transferred feast of the National Indigenous Day of Prayer which the Anglican Church of Canada has designated as the 21st of June. This observance has its genesis in our recognition that the church has much to repent of when it comes to dealing with the Indigenous people of this land. We the Church have a long history of participating in colonization and exploitation that continues into the present with innumerable examples of racism, and human rights abuses, such as was uncovered in Kamloops earlier this month and structural barriers to equal citizenship manifest both in our society and within the church.
Today, churches across the country seek to acknowledge this solid truth, and to commit to finding a new way forward. As former Bishop of Rupert’s Land Donald Phillips said, we seek to “find intentional ways to bring forward, in repentance, our participation in the sins of colonization both historically and presently, asking for God’s mercy, forgiveness and transformative power to act in all our lives as we seek to be reconciled to one another and to participate in the redemption of the world.”
No matter who we are or what our heritage may be, this conversation involves us. Because we benefit from the system that oppressed and exploited Indigenous people even if we have not actively participated in that oppression, I remember when I first came to Canada in 2003 having a conversation about this with a Cree priest who told me that … And also because we believe in the God who made all things, blessed them, and called them good. A God who invites us all to live in loving, self-giving relationship with one another. A God that calls us into relationship with Gods-self and each other and call us to labour together with God to build up the kind of world that God has always intended, the World as it Should Be.
The continued struggle that we are asked to participate in is an ongoing effort for justice. It seeks to redress the wrongs of our society, country and church. It calls us into action against what seems like an unbeatable force. The process of reconciliation and the naming of the National Day of Indigenous Prayer was a long process. National Aboriginal Day (now National Indigenous Peoples Day) was announced in 1996 by then Governor General of Canada, Roméo LeBlanc, through the Proclamation Declaring June 21 of Each Year as National Aboriginal Day. This was the result of consultations and statements of support for such a day made by various Indigenous groups: in 1982, the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) called for the creation of National Aboriginal Solidarity Day in 1995, the Sacred Assembly, a national conference of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people chaired by Elijah Harper, called for a national holiday to celebrate the contributions of Indigenous Peoples also in 1995, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended the designation of a National First Peoples Day. On June 21, 2017, the Prime Minister issued a statement announcing the intention to rename this day National Indigenous Peoples Day.
Along side this, the Government of Canada issued an apology in 2008 to Indigenous People. In 2015 the TRC Final Report and Recommendations were released and accepted by the Government of Canada on 15 December 2015.
It seems to be taking so long. I don’t know about you but I sometimes despair and wonder if it will ever be complete. I imagine that many Indigenous people in this country must wonder if they have been forgotten, abandoned by God as well as by us. I imagine so many advocates for Indigenous people might also despair and wonder how they can ever overcome the forces that seek to continue the status quo of oppression. How long will this continue?
The Isaiah passage for today is addressing the people of Israel at a time when they feel that God has forgotten about them as well. When they had been driven into exile and enslaved after their land was conquered by the Babylonians. They felt that God had forgotten about them, too they cried out for justice. The Prophet Isaiah reminds them and us that God has promised to bring us home. A promise that God is doing so now. And also a reminder that God provides comfort and strength to God’s people in the here and now. God promises that God has not forgotten and asserts that God will lead them home.
How long will it take why cry. Our bodies are tire and our feet ache. Our spirits are bruised and the stain of our tears runs down our faces. When it seems to us that the process of reconciliation isn’t going anywhere, when we are horrified by another realization of past atrocities. How long we ask!
When we see continued systematic racism and oppression, when we find the Bodie of hundreds of children in unmarked graves, when we see so many Indigenous children today subject to addictions and soul crushing poverty we wonder How long will justice be crucified, and truth bear it? When it seems that progress is painfully slow we need to remember that God can redeem anything. We can renew our strength by remembering God’s promises to us. We remember that God enlists us into God’s work in the world and that we are agents of change and justice. Remember that God uses the liberated as the liberators. Remember that though the time lines seems slow to us, that God is relentless in healing and returning God’s children to wholeness. We can find hope because in the words of Dr. King, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because "truth crushed to earth will rise again."
How long God? We cry. Not long says God. Because no lie can live forever.
How long? Not long because though the arc of the moral universe is long, it bends towards justice. How long, not long because the Glory of the Lord is upon us and will make all things new.
As we celebrate this day, let us remember that the fight is not over. May God continue to work in our hearts, moving us to tirelessly challenge the many injustices that still pervade our society.