Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Great Vigil of Easter, 2020: Subversive hope

Lectionary: Genesis 1:1-2:4a [The Story of Creation]; Isaiah 55:1-11 [Salvation offered freely to all]; Ezekiel 37:1-14 [The valley of dry bones]; then Romans 6:3-11; Psalm 114; Matthew 28:1-10

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En el nombre del Dios: creador, redentor, y santificador. Amen.

The night before he was murdered in Memphis, TN, Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I’ve been to the mountaintop” speech. It turned out to be a prophetic speech as he was assassinated the next day.

Here is the last paragraph of that speech: “Well, I don't know what will happen now; we've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter to with (sic) me now, because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life – longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over and I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. And so I'm happy tonight; I'm not worried about anything; I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” (Source)

Like most prophets, Dr. King was a subversive. He challenged the established system and its practices which held African Americans in the bondage of racism. Dr. King’s message was subversive because it was a message of hope, of inclusion, of God’s unfailing love for all and as theologian Walter Bruggeman says, “Hope is subversive.”

As a prophet, Dr. King gave hope not only to African-Americans but to all Americans. He assured us that despite all appearances and the entrenched practices of the established system, we could live together as one people, in freedom and in unity. He knew this because he had “seen the Promised Land.”

Our current moment is uncertain. We don’t know what will happen and how many of us will die from this virus. So, as we continue this journey together, it is up to us to embody the hope we know in Jesus Christ by going and telling, by continuing our work discovering where the established system is oppressive and working to set those captives free.

If this moment in time offers us anything, it’s this, isn’t it? Who has health care and who doesn’t? Why? Who gets the tests and ventilators, both in short supply? Freedom takes sacrifice; and if it is to be achieved, both the oppressed and the oppressor must work together to break the bonds that deny freedom.

Each age has a Promised Land to reach, a place where the oppressed and the oppressor are reconciled and live together in unity and harmony. In the beginning, Moses led the oppressed people of God out of Egypt into freedom in Canaan. In the 1960s Dr. King led us all toward racial freedom. Today, we embody hope in Christ in the uncertainty and fear caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s a pattern that’s part of our spiritual DNA and one our Savior made eternally true for us. On the day Jesus stood up in the grave, shook loose his burial linens, and left that tomb empty, he made marching to the Promised Land a continual journey for us until his coming again because resurrection isn’t about bodies or breathing. It’s about presence. God is present before, during, and after our understanding of anything.

We proclaim our hope in the eternal, living presence of God - and that hope, as Bruggeman said, is subversive. God, whose mercy endures forever, who is our strength and salvation, is always with us, IN us, redeeming all things sometimes before we even recognize the need for it. In fact, that’s how we often recognize the need for it.

God is sending us on another march to another Promised Land. As we go, it helps to remember that God shows no partiality. God didn’t pick Peter because he was so astute. Right? Yet look at Peter’s legacy. God created Peter, gifted him, and sent him to live out his purpose. And Peter did that – in all his imperfection.

God chooses each of us too. We were created for a purpose and that purpose is simple: to do God’s will. And what is God’s will? According to our catechism, Episcopalians believe that it is the will of God that the whole world be reconciled to God in Jesus Christ by the forgiveness of sins.

Reconciled people live in harmony and unity with one another and with God. The final destination of every march to every Promised Land is always reconciliation.

Sin is what separates us from God and one another. New life in Christ restores us to right relationship with God and one another, and all we have to do is remember - and by remember, I mean “re-member.”

To re-member is to reattach, the way a surgeon reattaches a severed body part. The re-attachment has to be whole – from the inside out or it won’t work. All the tissues, all the nerves, all the blood vessels have to be connected so that the blood of life can flow into that new part.

Our purpose as Christians is to ‘re-member.’ To find the one who is oppressed or exiled or lost, and reattach them to the body of Christ, reminding them and everyone who would exclude them that God shows no partiality, which means, neither can we.

Jesus Christ is the Lord of all – no exceptions. It isn’t, Jesus Christ is Lord of all, except for the atheists… or the gays… or the women, or the unchurched. Jesus is Lord of all. Paul says he died once for all – and that includes you, and it includes me, and it includes everyone we meet. (Ro 6:10)

We re-member when we love God, ourselves, and our neighbors, even our enemies. Dr. King was good at that and gave us a wonderful modern example in modern life of how that looks.

I had a discussion recently with my daughter who told me about an online argument she’d been having with some of her Christian friends who kept bringing up Bible verses to support their position. (It doesn’t even matter what the topic was). Here was my daughter’s response (and I can’t make a better point on Easter Eve than this):

She said, “All those words [in the Bible] are different ways of illustrating one message: lovelovelovelovelove. God is love. Period. You don't have to understand it. You don't have to agree with it. You can try to collect all the rules you want, and I'm sure that's a comfort. It's just not the point. I will say it until I die: God is love.”

We gather at this Great Vigil to re-member the power of the truth that God is love. Love that never dies. Love that dwells in us and calls us to be partners in the continuing work of redemption.

We may have some difficult days ahead, but it doesn't matter because our faith assures us that God is love, Christ is risen, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us.

As Dr. King said, …We, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So we are happy tonight and we are not worried about anything. Amen. Alleluia!

1 comment:

Mary J said...

I'm enjoying thinking about Subversive Hope. Thank you for drawing in Dr. King. I also am enjoying your use of iconography.
Mary J Renneckar (the font in the comment box is almost illegibly small).