Jesus lambasted the Pharisees--the "good folks" of his day--for being white-washed tombs: sparkling clean on the outside but inside full of putrification. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a speech shortly before his death at 39, noted that 11 AM on Sunday mornings was one of the most segregated times in American society, and more than half a century later, this continues to be the case. Our pastor is determined that our church should be a preview of heaven, where St. John described people from every language and ethnicity gathered around God's throne, united in worship. So, for the second year in a row, our church has hosted the area MLK memorial service.
Special music began at 11 AM, though the service itself didn't start until 12; I arrived at 11:10, and the sanctuary was already packed--I ended up with more than 150 others in overflow seating in a building across the road, watching a live video feed on a large screen. We have some African-American regular members, but how comparatively few overall was illuminated by the number of darker-skinned people in our usually predominately pale pews as the camera panned from the podium to the audience and back. I was reminded of my visiting a black church in south Georgia several decades ago, where I was one of maybe two white people in the service, and how everyone looked at me covertly with "what on earth is SHE doung here?" expressions. When you are a member of a majority, it's eye-opening to be put into circumstances where you are a minority--suddenly, you realize how much you stick out, and how odd you feel, even if folks are superficially welcoming and friendly.
Jesus's life, death and resurrection tore down the dividing walls between humans and their Maker, and between humans and other humans. Our false perceptions of ourselves as somehow superior (often this assumed superiority is due to characteristics over which we had no control, such as lineage or skin color) are only destroyed by the understanding of how much Jesua had to sacrifice to achieve our forgiveness, and those who comprehend the weight of this forgiveness cannot help but forgive others. So, just as people who were once enemies of God are now declared his friends, those who were once enemies of each other are now siblings in the church. But this has been given only lip service for a long time, and the messy business of talking about ongoing racial tensions and general injustice has been largely glossed over by the Christian community.
So it was that I found myself clasping hands with strangers and singing "We Shall Overcome" after a powerful sermon by a local Black Baptist bishop yesterday afternoon. Establishing a broad redeemed community is a huge long-trm challenge: may I live to see the dream of having solid, fully multi-racial churches embracing the thorny issues incumbant in ethnic identity and overcoming these to build a glorious whole mosaic fulfilled in my hometown!