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Fall 2014 · Vol. 43 No. 2 · pp. 246–252 

Ministry Compass

How We Proclaim Christ’s Triumph

Lori Ransom

Scripture Readings: Psalm 47; 2 Corinthians 5:14–21; Luke 24:44–53

Please pray with me:

O Spirit, grant that we may never seek so much to be consoled, as to console, to be understood, as to understand, to be loved, as to love with all our hearts and minds and spirits.

And may the words of my mouth, and the mediations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God, our Strength, our Rock, and our Redeemer.

Amen.

Good morning. I am delighted to be with you on this fine Sunday morning here in Abbotsford, and I want to thank you for inviting me to share reflections on our church’s ministry of healing and reconciliation with Aboriginal people in Canada.

It is a special delight for me to worship at my friend Hans’s church. I got to know Hans a little last year when he served as moderator of the 133rd General Assembly, and particularly when we travelled together to Ottawa, Vancouver, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg during the Aboriginal and {247} church leaders’ tour to promote plans for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

We all learned a great deal during that tour, and were deeply moved by our time with a number of Residential School survivors and other members of the Aboriginal community. Who in turn recognized in Hans and in the other church leaders, men of great sincerity, with compassionate hearts, and commitment to justice for the First Nation, Métis, and Aboriginal people of Canada.

So I want to take this opportunity to thank you, Hans, again for representing our church with such grace and feeling as we work to walk together with our First Nation, Inuit, and Métis neighbours.

As was said earlier, I am an Aboriginal person, myself. I am a member of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan, or Golden Lake, which is located about 150 kilometres northwest of Ottawa.

As is customary among Aboriginal peoples, it is important that I acknowledge with thanks, our opportunity to worship here in the traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples, who have lived in this area for many centuries.

When I come to British Columbia, which has the largest number of individual First Nation communities in Canada (198), it makes me think about the incredible diversity of Indigenous people in Canada, who even today speak sixty different languages, as peoples of over fifty distinctive Indigenous nations.

And Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”

“Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. You are witnesses to these things.”

Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be preached to all nations.

Today’s Gospel reading reminds us that on the church’s calendar today is Ascension Sunday, the day which marks the end of that unique period in our experience of Christ, between his resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost, which we shall remember next Sunday.

We tend to think of Christ’s time of teaching the disciples as preceding his death on the cross. But the time following his resurrection was also a time of teaching, and a special time, during which Christ helped the disciples come to grips with their mission on earth.

Christ laid the foundation for the church’s missional role.

The work of witnessing follows the coming of the Messiah. St. Paul puts it this way: he tells us we are now called to be Christ’s ambassadors. {248}

So Christ’s resurrection and ascension is not the end of the story. In fact, we believe it is a beginning. The beginning of a new life in Christ.

The language we Christians have adopted to describe the very mysterious, supernatural event of the resurrected Christ’s final departure from earth, his ascension, to sit on the right hand of the Father, is very interesting.

Traditionally the ascension is robed in the language of victory: Christ’s triumph, his triumph over sin and death. Christ has triumphed. Hallelujah!

The joy and delight and feelings of hopefulness and positive energy evoked by descriptions of the ascension triumph is entirely justified. God, through Christ, has assured us of victory over death, that we need never again be afraid, for we have been reconciled to God through Christ who left his peace among us, the peace which passes all understanding.

“Peace be with you. Do not be afraid. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Again, we hear in Christ’s final words to his disciples that call to mission.

We sing, “O fill us Lord with dauntless love; set heart and will on things above, that we conquer through thy triumph; Grant grace sufficient for life’s day, that by our life we ever say, Christ has triumphed and he liveth.”

That by our life we ever say. We sing joyfully about our mission to witness to Christ in everything we do and say.

This is the test which every Christian must hold his or her life up against. By our lives do we say Christ has triumphed.

Do we sometimes confuse Christ’s triumph with our own natural inclination to think we are right? Have we at times proclaimed not Christ triumphant, but Christians triumphant?

And do we see and understand the difference?

Moreover, Christ’s triumph is a pretty strange looking victory when you come right to it.

After his resurrection Christ counted for certain but a handful of men and women among his followers. Optimistically, there were perhaps a few hundred people whose lives he had touched, particularly in the three years of his active ministry on earth, who remembered his teachings and found comfort and healing in his touch.

He died an ignominious death . . . on the cross . . . alongside common criminals.

By the day of his ascension. His crucifiers were already on the road to forgetting him. Rome still ruled the holy land. The people of Israel still lived much as they had lived on the day Jesus was born.

Triumph? What was this triumph? {249}

Just about a year ago, on June 11, 2008, twelve people dressed in their best joined a few hundred other people, similarly attired for a special occasion, to make their way into the Parliament buildings in Ottawa.

It was a warm and sunny day. Gorgeous, in fact: perfect weather.

The gathering of people was colourful. Among the women and men in business attire were people in the red and black button blankets of this part of the country; men in ribbon shirts from the prairies; and women with colourful shawls. Skirts and traditional jewelry from many different First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities around the country.

I was fortunate enough to be among the group of twelve people, who had arrived following a delightful luncheon hosted by the Presbyterian Church in Canada at le Café, the restaurant of the National Arts Centre.

Our party included seven Residential School survivors: Ann, Josephine, Audrey, and Judy had attended school at Birtle, near Brandon in western Manitoba. Vivian had gone to another Presbyterian school, Cecilia Jeffrey, near Kenora, Ontario.

And Judy’s relatives, Harry and Dolores, had attended schools run by the Oblates.

Also with us was Tyler, Vivian’s twenty-one-year-old son, proudly adorned with the badge of his generation, an iPod.

Also with us were Stephen, Ian, and Cheol Soon, the moderator of our last General Assembly.

We all were on our way to listen to the prime minister of Canada make an apology to survivors of Indian Residential Schools, to Vivian and Judy, to Harry and Dolores, to Ann, Josephine, and to Audrey.

We basked not only in beautiful weather that day, but in a beautiful feeling.

To a person, the faces of those we encountered that day were rich with emotion. There was joy, but not the boisterous joy of a crowd whose team has just won the Stanley Cup, but the gentle, quiet, deeply felt joy of people who once doubted, who despaired even that life could change for the better, now arriving at a day many literally thought they would never live to see and experience.

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine, underlined the significance of this moment in our history, in his response to the government of Canada’s apology, when he said, “This day testifies to nothing less than the achievement of the impossible.”

Let’s think about that for a moment. “This day testifies to nothing less than the achievement of the impossible.” Wow! This is not just a throwaway line, said in the emotional heat of what was certainly a moment fraught with emotion. These words are found in his prepared text. “This {250} day testifies to nothing less than the achievement of the impossible.” He and the staff of the Assembly of First Nations reflected carefully on these words and made a thoughtful choice to acknowledge that for them, the impossible had been achieved. The impossible: achieved!

For Aboriginal people, reconciliation and the just resolution of historic wrongs have long seemed impossible.

For non-Aboriginal people too, Canadians who are the descendants of people who emigrated to this country decades and centuries ago, as well as for more recent immigrants, issues pertaining to Aboriginal people and their rights, particularly land claims resolution, also seem impossible, don’t they? They seem like problems that will never be resolved, that will remain an albatross around our nation’s neck for decades, or even centuries to come.

And yet, last year, on June 11th, something that seemed impossible took place.

As people of faith, should we be surprised? How often in history has God acted in ways that seem impossible?

Let’s think about the journey of these survivors. On June 11th we see them taking part in what will be remembered as historic events in our nation’s history, as the honoured guests of the moderator of the church which had run the Residential Schools they attended.

Imagine their journey to this day! Think back to when they were little children; when someone arrived at their homes to take them away from their parents, leaving them crying in distress, bewildered by what was happening; think about how they suddenly found themselves far away at a Residential School; where they immediately were separated brothers from sisters, into separate boys and girls dorms, and taught that the language, customs, and ways of living of their parents were wrong; where they were punished for speaking to each other in their native tongues.

Think of how years later, as young adults, they went back to their communities; how Josephine and Ann, who had found a bond of friendship at school, were sent back to communities so separated from each other that they would not see each other for another fifty years.

Think of Vivian, whose brother went to Residential School, but who later succumbed to the effects of substance abuse, having struggled to find a place for himself in society unsuccessfully, despite the schooling that was supposed to make him succeed in a “white” world.

How easy would it have been for these individuals to believe that such a day would come: that their nation would hold out the hand of peace to them, in repentance, seeking forgiveness?

That the prime minister of Canada would tell them, “You have been working on recovering from this experience for a very long time, and in {251} a very real sense, we are now joining you on this journey,” the journey of reconciliation between peoples?

St. Paul writes in Second Corinthians about this journey, reminding us that this is the work we have been called to do, the work of reconciliation. The mission Christ gave us on Ascension Day, assuring us, his disciples, that the presence and power of God’s Spirit will be with us, saying, “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid to open the locked doors and go out into the world and be reconciled to each other, as God has reconciled himself to us through Jesus Christ.”

Christ has triumphed. Now it’s our turn. To proclaim Christ’s triumph through how we live our lives and carry out Christ’s call to us to be his ambassadors, his ministers of reconciliation, loving all peoples as ourselves. This year, 2009, we in the Presbyterian Church in Canada remember that it has been fifteen years since we made our own apology, our confession of 1994, in which we made a promise to walk with Aboriginal people to find healing and wholeness together as all God’s people.

Dare we believe that our nation’s apology and our church’s confession may be read as proclamations of Christ’s triumph, as testimonies to all nations that we believe in repentance and the forgiveness of sins through Christ? Apology as triumph? How strange, how impossible!

And where do we go from here? What’s next on our journey towards reconciliation? It is clear that our work is not done.

Our Lord walked this walk before us. We have heard how Christ invited those who were ignored and excluded by others to be with him, to talk to him, to get to know him, to break bread with him, to share with him.

In many ways, the province of British Columbia is leading the way in Canada towards reconciliation with First Nations peoples. The many places in which community representatives are sitting down at tables to negotiate modern treaties and resource sharing agreements speak to a living effort to reconcile, to figure out how to live together in a good way.

But I suspect that like people in many parts of Canada, the people of this province remain eager to learn more about First Nations history, culture, or spirituality.

You may wish to invite an Aboriginal spiritual leader, an elder, an academic, an artist to speak to you on some future Sunday or special congregational event. Perhaps some are eager to talk to a native business or community leader to discuss current issues of common concern to people here in Abbotsford and the surrounding area.

You may wish to work with Mary and Ruth to plan a visit to a Native community. Or gather a group together to view a film by one of the many wonderful Aboriginal filmmakers. Or read and discuss a book by an {252} Aboriginal author at a social gathering. There are many ways to contribute to the work of healing and reconciliation.

We look forward as well to the work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This commission is our commission. The churches signed the agreement that gives a mandate to the Commission to help Canadians, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, to learn the story of Residential Schools, and the ongoing impact of the schools and our colonial history on First Nation, Inuit, and Métis people. And on non-Aboriginal people.

I find that Aboriginal people are very keen to find out, What do non-Aboriginal people mean by “reconciliation”? What does it look like? All Canadians have a role in answering that question.

We have much to learn from each other, about our ancestors: not only those who went to the schools, but those who worked in them, who taught there, who cooked, who looked after the property, who felt they were responding to a call to mission at a time not so long ago. But that feels ever so distant to our current understanding of how people should treat each other. What can we learn from them about how we see mission and ministry today? And what have we to teach those who will follow us in the faith?

On this Ascension Sunday we remember Christ’s final words to us to go out into the world triumphant in the knowledge that everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.

God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet!

Sing praises to God, sing praises!

Now all the vault of heaven resound. Christ has triumphed. Jesus liveth. Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Amen.

Lori Ransom has served for many years as the Healing and Reconciliation Program Animator for The Presbyterian Church in Canada and been employed for over twenty years with Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Canada. In 2011, she took on the role of Senior Advisor, Church Relations, for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. An active member of St. Andrew’s, King Street, Toronto, Lori is a member of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation (Golden Lake, near Pembroke, Ontario). This sermon was preached on Ascension and Healing and Reconciliation Sunday, May 24, 2009, at Calvin Presbyterian Church, Abbotsford, BC. It is reprinted here by permission.

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