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Injustice for the Just

Let us hear the Word of God. Reading from Psalm 25, a psalm of David, versus 1-5 and 16-21

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.

O my God, in you I trust;

Do not let me be put to shame;

Do not let my enemies exult over me.

Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;

Let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.


Make me to know your ways, O Lord;

Teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth, and teach me,

For you are the God of my salvation;

For you I wait all day long.


Turn to me and be gracious to me,

For I am lonely and afflicted.

Relieve the troubles of my heart,

And bring me out of my distress.

Consider my affliction and my trouble,

And forgive all my sins.


Consider how many are my foes,

And with what violent hatred they hate me.

O guard my life, and deliver me;

Do not let me be put to shame,

For I take refuge in you.

May integrity and uprightness preserve me,

For I wait for you.

This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

It is good to be with you this morning, and it is good to be once again surrounding by these wonderful images of Christ’s passion, created by Cree artist, Ovide Bighetty. My path has intersected with these works of art a number of times in these past five or six years.

I would like to draw your attention to one of them in particular today (pictured here). Ovide has entitled this image, “Injustice for the just.”

The text associated with this piece say the following: “The shamans and the crowd tied Jesus and took him to the chief’s council. They demanded that Jesus be put to death. The chief asked Jesus, ‘What have you done?’ Jesus replied, ‘I was born and came into this world for one purpose, to speak about the truth. Whoever belongs to the truth listens to me. ‘And what is truth?’ the chief asked.”

What is truth? With the psalmist we pray, ‘lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.’ For you I wait all day long.

As someone who has been at the epicentre of the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada for the past six years, it’s perhaps not surprising that I might find this image – injustice for the just, injustice for the just, with the concomitant question, ‘what is truth?’ to be particularly striking.

I like the image as well for it puts me in mind of how we in this country have been working to learn a deep and painful truth about ourselves by listening, deeply listening, to the hard truth, the difficult truth, of the many thousands of residential school survivors who we have called to witness to the truth of their experience to the nation.

There may yet be some of you who don’t know what I’m referring to when I say “residential school.”  Briefly, let me tell you that.

For some 150 years, the government of Canada implemented a residential schools policy for the purpose of assimilating its indigenous population into the dominant Euro-Canadian society. Indigenous children were taken from their home communities—sometimes by force—to live in residential schools where they were educated to reject their God-given culture, language, and spirituality in favour of European culture, the English language (in most instances), and Christian beliefs. Separating the children from parental influence was deemed essential to assimilate them effectively. Many schools were located hundreds of miles from the children's home communities and parental visits were rarely possible. Working collaboratively with the government, the Anglican, United, and Presbyterian churches and some 54 Roman Catholic religious orders and dioceses staffed and ran the schools for much of their existence.

I like this image because in it I can imagine I see at the centre the survivor, the now adult man, walking in the steps of Jesus, bearing the cross of his experience, of his childhood suffering, perhaps symbolized in this drawing by the ropes which bind the individuals’ hands.

The man faces another human being, as countless survivors have done, often with heads bowed down with some trepidation, to share from the deepest depths of their being some of their darkest and most painful experiences, to share the truth with us, in faith and in hope that we will learn from it.

The human being on the right seems to be accompanying the survivor, offering support. At our events, we have often watched family members accompany survivors as they spoke about their truth.  Brothers, sisters, children and grandchildren, have sat beside and behind survivors, reaching out, as this individual reaches out, to comfort, and offer protection from harm.

I recall how rain poured down for two solid days at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s first national event in Winnipeg in 2010. The weather seemed to cry with us as we listened to what it was like to sit as a five year-old Ojibway boy in a float plane as it took off from the only community he had known and loved to that date, watching his father and mother get smaller and smaller as they waved at him from the dock, not understanding the tears that had rolled down their faces as they had said good-bye, not understanding why he was being taken from them or where we was going: the words “residential school” meaning nothing at that point.

Tens of thousands of children, like that five year-old boy, were parented by violent institutions that hated their God-given Aboriginal identity, and robbed them of the love of their own parents. Countless little boys and little girls grew up among sexual predators who stalked them at night and brutally assaulted their little bodies.

Is it any wonder, then, that many did not grow up to be good parents, that some would act violently towards their loved ones later in life, as they tried to exorcise the demons of their own experience? The family member on the left looks ready to speak, a mouth open, as I witnessed so often, ready to offer words of forgiveness to their parent. To say, I understand the truth, I understand why you did what you did, and I love you for having the courage to share it and to overcome what happened to you. You have walked a difficult road.

The human being on the left, like our three commissioners who have sat on countless stages opposite survivors as in this image, and like the tens of thousands of Canadians who have come out to listen to survivors, listens with hands open, with empathy and compassion, the sorrow of what he is hearing written on his features. He is a witness.

Witnessing to Christ, we have been taught, means witnessing the pain of others with a pastoral heart, listening deeply, seeking to understand, offering comfort if comfort is sought, acknowledging pain and suffering, walking alongside those who walk through dark places, making sure they know they are not alone.

Witnessing to Christ, we have been taught, also means responding in love with action, it means talking about, it means seeking to redress injustice wherever we find it. And we find it here in North America. 

We see also wisdom in this picture. The owl, the spirit of truth, the spirit of love, embracing what is being shared, appears to be blessing the truth teller, the family member, and the witness. The circle is being restored. Brokenness in relationship is being healed.

We are blessed to live in a country that is seeking to know the truth, to heal from our brokenness, and to reconcile with each other and with God for our sins as a nation that have done so much harm to the peoples who first walked this land.

We are blessed by the incredible grace, courageously and selflessly shared with us by those who have suffered so much. They do so in hope, trusting, believing that by doing so, they will make a difference for others, for their children, for their grandchildren, for their communities, for the future of Inuit, Métis and First Nations peoples and for the future of all Canadians.

Finally, I invite you to reflect on the beauty, the colour, the living truth of this image, and the strength and power of all the other images around it.

What beauty, what richness of experience, knowledge, and fellowship is in store for those of us who have the courage to reach out and build relationships as Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal neighbours?

To walk together, seeking to know each other better and seeking to know more deeply, or more truly, the God who created all of us, in our in infinite variety, in God’s own image, and called all peoples blessed.


Editor's note: This talk was originally presented by Lori to the Board of Trustees of the Christian Reformed Church. 

[Image: Ovide Bighetty, Kisemanito Pakitinasuwin—The Creator’s Sacrifice series]


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