A reflection on the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Wednesday Eucharist – April 4, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, MA
Pastor Nathan Pipho
In the name of Jesus. AMEN.
In a holy echo of Easter Sunday, on this Easter Wednesday Midweek Eucharist, we hear again the scriptures from Easter: Isaiah 25:6-8 and Mark 16:1-8. On Sunday when we heard them in light of the joyful news of Christ’s resurrection. Today, April 4th, 2018, we hear them on the somber occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The 25th Chapter of Isaiah proclaims the hope of a feast. It proclaims a feast on a holy mountain. There are several important things we should recall about this feast.
First, it’s a banquet as verse 6 puts it – for all peoples. That’s a radical vision for the prophet some scholars believe was based in Jerusalem. Did he really mean all peoples? Or, did he mean just some of the peoples? Did he mean just all of the Jewish people only? Or, the Jewish people AND all of the people that threatened them? Was the feast for just all of the light skinned people? Or was it for all of the dark skinned people also? Isaiah didn’t specify. He didn’t differentiate. In faith today, we receive this vision as a holy feast for ALL peoples.
It’s also important to note, that this feast for all peoples, was a feast of rich food and well-aged wine. It was a feast of the very best food. Not scraps, not handouts, not leftovers, but a feast of the best food. Not a feast tainted by inequality. Not a feast for some and famine for others. Not a feast where each only received what their money could buy. For all peoples the very best.
And accompanying this feast, this feast for all peoples, this feast of the very best foods, or perhaps precisely as a result of the feast, the shroud cast over all peoples, and the sheet spread over all nations, was destroyed. For Isaiah, that shroud and sheet was death. In the face of death, Isaiah pointed to God’s ability to bring life.
On this day, we are right to confess and acknowledge, that the shroud and sheet cast over the nations, is the reality of racism. The indignity whereby some claim dominion over others based upon skin color. It is, in fact, the same shroud and sheet Isaiah identified, because isn’t racism just another form of death?
Martin Luther King, Jr. died because of racism. The dreams and freedom of countless number of people we identify as black, have been destroyed because of racism. And those deaths occur today. Those whose skin color is black are incarcerated in this country far beyond the demographics of this country. Racism is death.
But, it is on Isaiah’s mountain, and mountain as a place important because in Isaiah’s time mountains were seen as the place of God’s holy activity, on Isaiah’ mountain, the holy place of God’s work, all peoples are invited and where sin, racism, and death are defeated!
It is that vision that we receive today in faith. And as we receive that vision, we hear again the Easter Gospel according to St. Mark. In presenting the resurrection, Mark tells us of the terror and the fear the women experienced on the day of resurrection. Terror and fear that silenced them in the face of the Easter good news of the resurrection of Christ.
On this occasion, we must be honest about the fear and terror that exists on the issue of race. Not just fear held by other people, though fear is there. The truth is, when this country took a majestic and mighty step forward in electing President Obama as the first black President, fear and terror gripped a whole group of people in this country who refused to see his election as a new beginning of racial equality and justice.
In response, a racist backlash erupted with shouts “He wasn’t born here! He’s not one of us!” “We need to take back our country,” a backlash that crippled President Obama’s ability to lead this country, and created a wave of venom and hate that ultimately carried into the White House a man who openly spews hatred against people whose skin is a different color than his own, and venom against people born in different countries than him, identifying a whole group of countries as S-H-I-T-hole countries.
Not just fear in others, but fear in ourselves as well. For when we are honest about it, we know that the end of racism means the end of racist structures, racist public policies and racist institutions from which we have benefited. As pointed out by others, racism is this country’s original sin, and it is deep seeded, it privileges people of light skin color and disadvantages people of dark skin color, and because it is so entrenched even people who hold no outward animosity towards people of a different skin color, still benefit from racist structures that oppress them.
There is fear and there is terror on this day. Fear and terror in the face of God’s work in the resurrected Jesus leading this society to greater equality, openness and understanding. It was fear and terror that led to the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr who dared to have a dream about God creating an equal society. It was fear and terror that led to the death of others who dared call this country to its own ideals of equality of opportunity and freedom for all. It remains fear and terror by which a death grip holds onto institutions that perpetuate race divisions.
At the end of the Mark’s Gospel, the women, in their fear and terror, went and told no one. This work also teaches us an important lesson. In God’s work dismantling racism and establishing a society of dignity and worth, God does not need allies in this struggle. Do you know the difference between allies and advocates? Allies agree with you, but do nothing to help you. They are like the women in the gospel who go and tell no one. They won’t stand in your way, but they won’t lift the load with you. Allies agree that racism is bad, but do nothing to stand against it.
The sheets of racial injustice and inequality cast over all people, however, are not removed by allies. They are removed, instead, by advocates. Advocates not only agree with you, but they are also willing to work with you. When others don’t want to listen – advocates speak; when others would rather rest, advocates work; when others play it safe, advocates put themselves, and their very lives, on the line.
As people of the resurrection, as people of Isaiah’s vision, God, in the resurrected Jesus Christ, empowers us to be advocates. Advocates say “enough is enough.” Today, Cantor Mark is an advocate. Cantor Mark has traveled to Washington, D.C. to join with other ELCA Lutherans to advocate on behalf of racial equality and racial justice. Advocates don’t just silently agree, advocates, joined to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, are life-agents, are healing-agents, are actors and workers in the kingdom of God.
That does not mean that advocates are fearless. It’s been said, that bravery is not the absence of fear, but the ability to act in the face of fear. As I said in my Easter Sunday sermon, fear can be a natural part of new beginnings. But in Christ, advocates move beyond fear and into life.
The Good News tonight, is that Isaiah’s vision of a mountain feast of life – is a vision to which we are all invited! The feast that is both the goal of racial equality, and which enacts racial equality, is not a zero-sum game – where my gain is your loss – or your gain is my loss – or where full participation for others means less participation for me. We are invited, as resurrection people, to believe in a God of abundance – a God of life with the power to grant to each and every single person, regardless of the color of their skin, or their national origin, an abundant feast.
The Good News tonight is a God of power, who in defeating death, leads us past our sin, and leads us and ALL peoples to the feast. It was the work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and it was the proclamation of Jesus Christ, that God’s abundance is for all people. It is the work of us as followers of Jesus Christ, as people of the resurrection, to be advocates. To not just silently agree that racism is bad but then to say nothing about it, but to actively and publicly work for a society of full inclusion, full participation, and where the full dignity of each person – especially those most different from ourselves – is recognized and maintained.
May God preserve the memory and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
May God, the Holy Spirit, grant us each the faith to lead all people to Isaiah’s mountain feast.
May God, the Holy Spirit, grant us the faith to know that each of us has a place at that holy feast prepared for the communion of saints as a gift of mercy and grace through the death and resurrection of Christ.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen, indeed. Alleluia!