Lenten Reflection (Josh Ross)

Lent, Dr. King, and the Uncertainty of Saturday

I didn’t grow up in a faith tradition that celebrated Lent. All I knew about it was that I had a few friends in high school who would give up something they didn’t even like.

Yet, knowing our wedding was coming up in May of 2002, Kayci and I decided to honor Lent that year as a way to center our hearts as we prepared for a lifelong covenant together. We committed to reading the gospels, honoring silence, and trusting God to tend to our hearts. Our communication could have been a little better. I gave up meat, and I was (and still am) a meat-etarian. She gave up sweets. Do you see a problem here? She would order fajitas. I would order chocolate with ice cream. We would stare at each other in disbelief. Yet, by the grace of God, our relationship survived.

What held us together, and what prepared us for marriage that year, was the adventure with God leading up to Easter. The journey to the cross and to the empty Tomb had never had such meaning and focus for us. And ever since then, Lent is a season I can’t ignore. My heart needs the journey.

***

Easter has become one of my favorite days of the year, and not just because my heart needs it. But because it holds within itself the message that can set the world right.

As a culture and a world, we find ourselves in one of the days of Easter weekend. My good friend, Rick Atchley, says that Good Friday reminds us that we lost hope, Saturday reminds us that we had hoped, and Sunday declares we have hope.

Memphis, where I pastor, had an eventful Easter weekend in 2013. On Saturday, the day before Easter, the KKK decided to hold a rally in downtown. A few dozen Klan members traveled from around the United States to honor Nathan Bedford Forest, one of the founders of their group. The rally was held a few hundred yards from the location where thousands of Africans were sold into slavery. There are days it feels like evil is winning and running up the score, right? That day served as a reminder to many of us who cling to the powerful message of Easter Sunday that though Jesus conquered the grave early on that Sunday morning, there are existing chains of hatred, entitlement, and sin that still need to be broken.

This year, on the Saturday after Good Friday and before Easter Sunday, an eclectic group of people will gather at the Lorraine Motel, better known as the National Civil Rights Museum. They will hold candles, shed tears, and sing the African American spirituals as they remember the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was murdered the evening of April 4th. A mile away on that day, the National American Atheism Convention will be held where some will dismiss Easter as fairy tale and make believe; yet the prayer vigil will lean into the Easter story as the only hope we have to be reconciled to God and to each other.

And I think—as for now—April 4th belongs on the Saturday after Good Friday and before Easter Sunday. It is the day that adequately describes where we are in race relations today throughout our world.

You see, Good Friday is about death, darkness, shock, and disbelief. No one expected the Messiah to die, and if he were to die, definitely not on a Roman tree.

Easter Sunday is bright, celebratory, exciting, and full of hope that through Jesus, God has turned back the clock on evil. Easter Sunday declares that the clock is ticking on injustice, that there is a lifespan on evil, and that death will not get the last word. Jesus wins.

Yet, Saturday is where we often live. It is the day of questioning, doubt, anxiety, and confusion. There is an awkwardness about Saturday; an uncertainty of how exactly this story is going to pan out.

Race in America is not where it was. Yet, it also isn’t where it needs to be. We can’t go back to the days of utter darkness, despair, oppression, and striping certain groups of dignity, yet we also can’t pretend as if we have arrived at somewhere we have not.

Now, let me be clear, Dr. King isn’t Jesus. He had his flaws and imperfections. Jesus did not. Dr. King would be the first one to tell you that he wasn’t the savior of a race, a people, or the world. He knew that was a role and position only Jesus could fill. Though Dr. King’s death on April 4th was not in vain, it doesn’t even come close to what Good Friday and Easter Sunday accomplished for humanity and for the world. But we know that the uncertainty of Saturday still lingers today.

The hope of Easter is that through Jesus, God will set all things right. All things.

For me, the gospel doesn’t begin with racial reconciliation; it begins with the good news of Jesus. Yet from that point, we have to ask who it is good news for, and what the good news does to unite and reconcile the world. The power of the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t just for Jesus’ dead body, it was for the entire world. At the cross is where sin, death, adultery, idolatry, and racism went to die, and the empty tomb is where life-as-it-is-in-heaven was launched.

If Easter Sunday is where freedom from sin and death is announced, from Easter Sunday is where reconciliation was officially launched. And here is what we know: living into freedom is never easy; for any of us.

Some think that if we keep talking about racism, we will only prolong its lifespan. For me, I don’t attempt to cultivate conversations on race to perpetuate racism, but to eradicate it. I’m convinced that true change and freedom is when we look something in the face, talk about it for what it is and the harm it has done and does do, and intentionally decide to work towards something better, instead of passively hoping that “everyone else” will change their attitudes and get things right.

Someone (a white friend of mine) recently expressed that they couldn’t take anymore of the #BlackLivesMatter lingo. I asked them to please answer one question for me, “Do black lives matter?”

Their response, “Well…it is out of control…and it is…”

I interrupted them, “Hang on. Just answer the question, ‘Do black lives matter?’” And they couldn’t do it.

Until we can answer the question “Do ________ lives matter?” we will fail to see the glory of heaven pressing into this earth.

Do black lives matter to God? Yes!

Do cop lives matter to God? Yes!

Do Latino lives matter to God? Yes!

Do white lives matter to God? Yes!

Do all lives matter to God? Yes!

And if so, we allow our confusion and the uncertainty of Saturday to not keep us from pressing into the fullness of Easter Sunday with everything we have.

I can’t help but be challenged by the fact that the book of Acts doesn’t call followers of Jesus “Christians” until the church was integrated. (Acts 11:26).

I can’t help but be amazed by the diverse scene on display in Revelation 7:9.

I can’t help but notice how the Gentiles were grafted into the story of God in Romans 11. (Which by the way, we are all grafted into the story of God. No one is allowed to be the Jew in the story. A lot of times we are fine with reconciliation; we just want others to be grafted into “our” story, right?)

The promises that come from Easter Sunday are not just promises we long for, but that we work towards. If heaven is where homogeneity will go to die, then the people of God must begin practicing what will be our future.

You see, it is ok to spend some days in the Saturday of Easter weekend, but we must press into the new world created by Easter Sunday.

***

So, when the KKK came to Memphis back in 2013, one of my best friends—a Memphis police officer, and an African American—had to work that day. He had to walk through the group of men dressed in white sheets to make sure the rally remained peaceful. The rally didn’t last very long. It helped that rain began to fall from the heavens.

As the crowd began to disperse, my friend asked a Klansman, “Is that it? It’s over?”

The man turned to him, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “I guess so, It looks like we already ran out of things to say.”

I love that. It is a reminder that as the Kingdom of God presses in, Evil’s vocabulary and words become few.

Yet, those of us who have experienced the beauty of Easter Sunday, we can’t be silent about the hope we have been given. It is a story that we must tell. It is a story we must live into.

As we move into this season, let’s move together into greater expressions of freedom.

 

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