Canada’s moment of national reckoning has continued this week, with the uncovering of yet another mass grave on the site of an old Residential School, this time in Saskatchewan. This is no surprise — anyone who has been paying attention has known these graveyards existed; far too many children disappeared from the schools for it to be otherwise. And yet every set of remains uncovered is still one more reminder of the horrific scope of the neglect and abuse that resulted from intentional policies of the Canadian government with the cooperation of the Churches. And of course, politics being as it is these days, these discoveries have led to the predictable call from activists to cancel Canada Day activities this Thursday, and the equally predictable push back from the Right, trying to frame this as an ‘attack on Canada.’
I remain convinced that this is an important time for our country. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge, lament, and repent of who we have been and in many ways still are, and to commit — not just in words but in action — to a new beginning as Canadians. To me this time of reckoning holds great hope for the future.
With all this in mind, I was grateful once again this week for the words of the Psalm of the day, Psalm 130. For it too speaks of hope in the midst of desolation.
Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice;
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
If you, Lord, were to keep a record of wrongs, O Lord, who could stand?
The Psalm begins with these stirring words of repentance, calling out to God, asking to be heard, and acknowledging the reality of our sin. If our relationship with God rested on an account of the ways we’ve hurt others and ourselves, no one would stand a chance. But, as the Psalm makes clear in the verses that follow, this is not who our God is:
But there is forgiveness with you;
therefore you shall be feared.
I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him;
in his word is my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning,
more than watchmen for the morning.
O Israel, wait for the Lord,
for with the Lord there is mercy;
With him there is plenteous redemption,
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
“There is forgiveness with you.” These are important and powerful words. It is God’s nature to forgive. God does not need to be convinced or cajoled in order to forgive; God does not need payment or blood to forgive. Forgiveness is in God’s nature. Full stop. (As an aside, for Christians, this is one huge reason among many to reject the ‘penal substitution’ understanding of the atonement; whatever it was that was accomplished on the cross, it was not a matter of satisfying God’s demand for retribution, justice, or honour. That is simply not who our God is according to the Scriptures.)
The poem then makes an interesting connection. God forgives, “therefore” God is to be feared. The fear of God in the Bible is far more about humility, awe and respect than about terror. And this is the sense here. What is the proper response to a God who forgives? Awe. Forgiveness is no small matter. Whether human or divine, forgiveness is nothing short of a miracle, and we would do well not to forget that.
And so, with repentant hearts and in the full knowledge of and awe before God’s forgiveness, we wait. We wait and see how God’s mercy will seep through the broken places, and knit us and our communities back together again.
What a beautiful image before us today, especially as Canadians, in this moment when so much is coming to light. We are in the depths — as we should be. The question is how we will respond. Will we insist on continuing as usual and hope it will just all go away? Or will we call out to God in genuine repentance, trusting that there is not only forgiveness, but also mercy in our mess, and that God will show us the way forward to a new, better, holier way of being with one another. (And as we saw last week, how good and pleasant it is when we live together in unity!)