In this fifth week of Easter, I am reminded that resurrection–and hope–does not always come easy. From the lectionary texts for this Sunday to the current events of the last week, there are signs of resurrection and hope yet we must look into the despair and death in the world to find them sprouting up.
Rev. Dr. James Forbes, retired pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, has been known to hold the Bible up high between both hands and say “This book is about love.” He knows as well as that the Bible has been used to hurt people. Yet he believed that the story is ultimately one of love, regardless of how much we distort it, the resurrection love continues to break through.
“This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you…”
This week the world lost a theological giant. Rev. Dr. James Hal Cone, father of Black liberation theology, taught his students to love God and God’s people by challenging the white supremacy in much of Christian theology and practice.
“If I have anything to say to the Christian community in America and around the world, it is rooted in the tragic and hopeful reality that sustains and empowers black people to resist the forces that seem designed to destroy every ounce of dignity in their souls and bodies.” (James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree)
It is not lost on us that the same week that we lost this prophet, who spoke–and whose words will continue to speak–challenging truth to white Christianity, a museum dedicated to the victims of lynching in the United States opened. This museum, too, is a resurrection of sorts. It does not bring back the victims, and it does not gloss over the horror of their crucifixions, but perhaps it brings a kind of new life to their stories; and it is up to us whether we will allow ourselves to be resurrected–to be given new life–by the work of this museum, of Dr. Cone, and of the hundreds of other Black, indigenous, Brown, and other leaders.
“The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opens Thursday on a six-acre site overlooking the Alabama State Capitol, is dedicated to the victims of American white supremacy. And it demands a reckoning with one of the nation’s least recognized atrocities: the lynching of thousands of black people in a decades-long campaign of racist terror.” (“A Lynching Memorial is Opening. The Country has Never Seen Anything Like It,” The New York Times 25 April, 2018)
The new Poor People’s Campaign is preparing to kick off 40 days of nonviolent direct action across the country to fight systemic racism, poverty, militarism, and ecological destruction and create a new moral agenda and a movement for justice for all–something we’ve never had in the United States however much it is a part of our narrative.
“You didn’t choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you could go and produce fruit and so that your fruit could last.”
Even now, even 30 days after we celebrated Easter, not to mention two millennia later,
we keep waiting for the kind of resurrection
that is more like a military victory and
less like acknowledging the pain that White Supremacy has caused to all peoples,
more like a solitary powerful political figure righting all the wrongs and
less like Black, indigenous, Brown, undocumented, poor and LTBTQ+ people fighting for their liberation and connecting their struggles to each other in a new Poor People’s Campaign;
more like a hero who saves us all, and
less like “greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends;”
More like everyone simultaneously agreeing on what peace looks like, and
less like thousands of Gazans showing up Friday after Friday for nonviolent protests of an overwhelmingly oppressive occupation.
Yet year after year, verse after verse, Easter after Easter, Jesus tells us: “I am with you always,” and still we forget to look for him; and we forget that resurrection is small–not insignificant–but small, not flashy and big and total like we want. Resurrection might be a truth-telling museum, a Friday protest, a life lived in celebration of Blackness and the Black God, a new unsettling force that is uniting people for change. There is death and pain, yes. And we should not look away, no. But neither should we forget that ours is a story about love, a story we are invited to witness and be part of, to be changed by.
(All scriptural references in italics come from the John 15 text that is the Gospel lectionary reading for May 6).