The Struggle Goes On
Thursday, April 4, 1968. Fifty-five years ago this week. I was engaged in a tightly-contested race for Student Body President at Asbury College. The vote would be taken the next day. Our campaign team put together a rally in the gym to get out the vote. A moment before I went on stage, someone told me, “Martin Luther King, Jr., has just been shot.”
I’m embarrassed to admit that we rolled along with the rally as if nothing had happened. It lingers in my memory as a sad sign of our isolation from the struggle for civil rights in our predominately white, Christian bubble.
The struggle continues today. Yesterday the predominately white, generally older, male members of the Tennessee House expelled two young, Black Representatives because they disrupted House decorum to call for stricter gun laws. The House had only expelled two members since the Civil War. They failed by one vote to expel a white woman who also participated in the protest. It was not unlike the way young men and women disrupted the decorum of white supremacy in Nashville fifty-five years ago.
The action came as Nashville families were burying three children and three adults who were slaughtered with an assault weapon at a Christian school in the same city. It came the same time the Governor of Florida signed the “permitless carry” bill and the predominately white, male members of the Legislature continued their assault on the LGBTQ community, their attempts to repress the teaching of our history of racism in our public schools, and their efforts to stamp out programs on “equality, inclusion and diversity” in our State universities.
Make no mistake. The struggle for which Martin Luther King, Jr. died goes on. The task of making “a more perfect union,” assuring “liberty and justice for all”, and protecting “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” for everyone including children in our classrooms is far from completed.
Words Worth Remembering
Nothing I said in the gym that spring night was worth remembering. The most memorable words of that night were spoken in Indianapolis. Robert F. Kennedy was scheduled to speak to a largely Black crowd that did not know about Dr. King’s assassination. Police warned him not to go. But he went. (You can watch it here.)
He named the reality of the moment in words that are as accurate today as they were then.
“Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice between fellow human beings. He died in the cause of that effort. In this difficult day, in this difficult time for the United States, it’s perhaps well to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.”
He described the alternatives. “We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization — black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another. Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love … We have to make an effort to understand, to get beyond, or go beyond these rather difficult times.”
Then he quoted the Greek poet, Aeschylus, who he named as his favorite poet. (What politician would quote a Greek poet today?)
Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
through the awful grace of God.
On to Golgotha
All of this happened during Holy Week as followers of Christ make their way to a rugged, skull-shaped hill on the outskirts of Jerusalem called Golgotha.(John 19:17-18)
The gospels weren’t written to locate the “Skull Place” on a tourist’s map of the Holy Land but to lead us into the dark terrain of our own souls. The point is not to view Golgotha from a safe distance as an objective observer of a historical event, but to make our way as broken people in a broken world to that place where we fall in humility before the broken body of Jesus on the cross. When we hear the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”, something deep within us cries out, “Yes! I am there!” In a way that is deeper than cognitive knowledge, we are confronted with the depth of human injustice, suffering and sin. And there, when Jesus dies in the darkness at midday, we experience “the awful grace of God.”
At the cross, the awful, awesome and amazing grace of God “falls drop by drop upon the heart.” Here we realize that the sins that nailed Jesus to the cross continue to be the sins in our personal lives and the systemic evils that do our sinning for us. They are the sins that continue to nail innocent people to a cross today. And at the foot of the cross, we stand in awe as we discover that we can be redeemed through the unearned, undeserved, immeasurable forgiveness and grace of God. (From Finding Your Bearings: How Words that Guided Jesus through Crisis Can Guide Us, p. 68-69)
Today, we are drawn again to the cross where we fall in awful awareness of the extent to which God would go to save and heal us and our world. I invite you to pause with me and listen to Isaac Watts powerful hymn here.
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them through his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
On the way to the cross,
13 thoughts on “On the Way To The Cross”
I remember that night well…and with regret, much like my memory of our Freshman Talent Show. God have mercy.
I remember that day and night. Thank you for thoughtful and timely words.
Thank you for this timely, poignant, challenging, and grace-full word!
Thank you once again, Jim, for saying the right words in a penetrating way. May we rise up to save the next child before we forget the last one. Peace,
Thank you, Jim for your help in understanding the challenges we’re facing. God bless you.
Thanks Jim for sharing your memory of 1968, and critical time in our personal histories. I “used” your link on my Facebook post: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100011006553591
Grateful it was useful for you! Have a joy-soaked Easter!
Thanks Jim for these words. And EASTER EARTHQUAKE, a very helpful guide for this season of the year. God’s blessings wherever you journey.
Thank you, Jim. A perfect follow up to a powerful HPUM Good Friday service.Wishing you a blessed Easter.✝️🐑💜
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Amen! And Glory!
As always,I.am in awe of your writing. You often leave me in tears, but this time morning shame and embarrassment at what we seem unable to change in our country– even in our church communities. God forgive us/me
Amy: Thanks! These are difficult days when so many things we believed were more settled are being undone. By faith, we keep hanging on encouraging each other along the way!