On April 4th, America will commemorate the life of Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in memory of his assassination 50 years ago at the age of 39.
The Christian calendar is in its most Holy time - lent is ending and Easter is emerging. Through resurrection, God shows the world that God's justice is more powerful than a militarized state, more oppressive than greed, more powerful than fear and intimidation... God's justice is more powerful than death itself. The status quo and those who hold power will often fight against justice, but in the end God's justice will win. As King stated, the arc of the universe bends toward justice.
In our world today, racism is ingrained into our institutions. Minority children in Ohio are 70% more likely to experience poverty before they are five. Ohio continues to rank near last of all the states for African American infant mortality and graduation rates. White students in Ohio graduate at a rate of 86% while African Americans only graduate at a rate of 60% and African American infant mortality rates are nearly three times greater in Ohio than for whites. We cannot address poverty and hunger in our communities without recognition and understanding that racism exists.
The facts don't lie - racism exists.
Too often, we think this means that the civil rights movement and MLK's legacy is weakened by the reality that racism exists 50 years after his assassination. For America's entire history, racism was the foundation of this nation. It will take generations of difficult and intentional work to unravel the racism that is woven into the fabric of the American identity.
They want to shut up a prophetic voice
Jesus was a minor annoyance to the authorities as his ministry began, but on Palm Sunday he openly challenged the authority of the Roman Empire and its cronies in Jerusalem. Exposing the injustice of the system was too much for them. They had to kill Jesus to shut him up.
Similarly today, oppressive forces respond out of fear when a light is shone to expose the racism in America. Rev. King was assassinated to shut him up. White Christian and Jewish 'moderates' wrote letters encouraging Rev. King to shut up. But the call of justice is too strong. The louder it grows, the harder it is to silence. Not only do we honor the legacy of Rev. King but all the others who were told to shut up to advance civil rights in AmericaEmmett Till, Lamar Smith, Rev. George Lee, Medgar Evers, Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, Rev. Bruce Klunder, James Earl Chaney, Malcom X, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner, Jimmy Lee Jackson, Viola Liuzzo, Jonathan Daniels, Samuel Leamon Young, and countless others. These individuals worked to shine a light in dark places to expose the evil and begin the process of reconciliation. They refused to shut up.
But in the end...
Rome and their cronies in Jerusalem couldn't silence the prophetic voice of Jesus nor will America be able to silence the prophetic voice that continues to ring out today for Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Freddy Gray, John Crawford and many others.
The song of justice will carry on regardless who is in the ensemble performing. A movement isn't built around one person, but a shared vision for the future. As our vision grows for a diverse and beautiful America, more people will join our song. There will be some, like King, who sing louder than others. But it takes the entire group. The faith and hope of the Christian tradition is based on the cross being left empty. Fears and anxieties are laid to rest there, so that hope and a new song for the world can emerge.
In the end the lynching tree and all it represents will lose, because the cross is left empty.