Let us pray.
O God, you have turned our wailing into dancing.
Clothe us with joy,
No matter what we face.
The 42ndGeneral Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada
Begins with worship on Wednesday night.
Now, some of y’all may not know what General Synod is,
Or why we’re having one,
So I thought I’d take just a moment
To explain the purpose of General Synod.
Every three years,
Representatives elected from each diocese
Gather together to listen for God’s voice
And discern the calling He is giving
For the future of His Church.
Because the actual processes of a synod
Closely resemble those of a political body
It would be easy for us to confuse this as a democratic exercise.
We elected representatives from the Diocese of Edmonton,
We are their constituents,
They represent us and our concerns
And are accountable to us in some way.
But that’s not actually how it works in the Church.
Yes, we do elect clergy and lay representatives
Whom we trust,
Who we believe are in some way representative of the whole people of God
Gathered in the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton,
But we didn’t elect them to advocate for us
In some contentious, adversarial process
Of argument with Anglicans from other dioceses.
We elected them to listen.
We elected them
Because we believe
That they are best equipped to join with Anglicans from coast to coast to coast
To listen for the God who is calling us by name
And to look for the way forward
God is showing us.
As the then-Archbishop of Canterbury offered to the Anglican bishops
Gathered at Lambeth 10 years ago,
That’s the only way forward for Christians,
To go where Christ has gone before
To clear the way.
“The only way Christians lead,” he says,
“Is by following – following Jesus’ way.”
Now, some synods do better at this than others,
Bishop Jane reminded us this week in her letter to the diocese.
It is the official position of the Anglican Church
That the Councils of the Church – even the famous, historic ones
That decided important, central doctrinal things –
Can and have erred,
And I have no doubt that the imperfect sinners who will gather in Vancouver
Are likely to err in some way.
Because human beings aren’t great at listening for God.
Often, God’s voice is drowned out
By the rush of words that surround us
Words of advertising,
Words of politicians,
Eager to persuade,
To capture our attention,
Even our own desires crowd in,
Shouting “Me, me, me!”
Over a God
Whose native language
We hear in today’s Psalm
That the Psalmist felt pretty confident he could discern God’s voice.
Everything was going great for him,
So he said, “I shall never be shaken.”
Nothing bad enough to test his faith in God
Would ever happen to him.
Y’all can see where this is going, right?
God hid God’s face,
And the Psalmist was filled with fear.
God hides God’s face
Rather more often in Scripture than we are comfortable with.
The book of Job is only one example
Of a time when God is silent in the face of Job’s contention
That all the calamity which has befallen him
Job’s friends attempt to fill the silence
With justifications for God,
With interpretations for what God’s actions might mean,
But when God Himself appears on the scene,
He shushes those friends
And praises Job
For recognizing the profound unfairness
Of all that he has experienced.
Even then, God gives no answer,
No explanation as to why.
Why Job had to suffer.
Why Job’s children had to die.
Why Job’s wife had to scrape her skin with potsherds
Until she was moved to curse God and die.
Terrible things happen in the world.
And sometimes the Church acts in the place of Job’s friends.
We attempt to explain, to interpret,
To fill God’s silence with our words,
As though that will somehow make
The suffering of children
The evil, racist violence of the world
The callous indifference of the people
I don’t know about y’all,
But I am praying hard for these synod delegates
Whose job is to seek God’s face,
Because it sure appears hidden right about now
And that fills me with fear.
Weeping may spend the night,
But joy comes in the morning.
This Psalm is often read
As part of our Easter liturgy.
Because God is able
To turn even death,
Even the death of God Himself,
Into joy that comes in the morning.
Even something so terrible as death,
We are promised,
God is able
To clothe with joy.
Now, this isn’t to say that “it’ll all be okay,”
Or that there might not be pain involved in the process.
We often look to butterflies
As a metaphor for our belief in resurrection.
But caterpillars don’t turn into butterflies
Just by taking an afternoon snooze in a cocoon.
The caterpillar’s stomach enzymes
Literally dissolve it
From the inside out –
Basically, it eats itself with its own stomach acid.
I don’t know that they’ve done studies
On caterpillar pain,
Though Derek tells me that they have discovered
That caterpillars scream at a pitch too high for human ears to catch,
But, regardless, it sounds awful to me.
Even when there’s life on the other side.
The Psalmist wails
Before he begins to dance.
Job rails against God’s silence
Before listening to God’s response.
It’s not that death isn’t terrible.
It’s that it’s not the end.
Death does not have the last word.
Do not have the last word.
No matter what terrible things
We see in the world around us,
We trust God’s promise
That God will bring joy in the morning.
And we commit ourselves
Not to explaining God’s silence to suffering people
As though God need our help with His PR,
But becoming bringers of joy
To those who have been burned so often in the past
That they can’t yet trust that promise themselves.
We commit ourselves
To going out into the Lord’s harvest
To share the Good News
That the Kingdom of God has come near
That help is on the way
That whatever terrible thing is happening
But it’s not the end.
So: if we trust that God can bring life out of death
And dancing out of wailing
Then why can’t we trust
That whether we’re happy or unhappy
With the results of one synod
God can bring joy?
If we trust
That God has triumphed over death itself
Why can’t we believe
That God is so far beyond our arguments
About circumcision or uncircumcision,
As they were in Paul’s time,
Or whatever we’re arguing about this time
As to make a new creation
That is everything
No matter what we do?
I know it’s scary when God hides God’s face.
I know the temptation to fill God’s silence with words.
To prefer our certainty
To God’s openness.
To prefer the paths we have trod before
To the new way that Christ is clearing before us.
But I ask you in the weeks ahead
That God is able.
God is able to turn death into life
And wailing into dancing.
No matter what.