I don’t know where to begin. This coming Sunday Mount Olivet is celebrating it’s one-year anniversary – one year of being a reconciling congregation. Like many, the past week has been emotionally, spiritually, and physically draining. The COVID-19 pandemic was one thing, and then, the horrific death of George Floyd shifted our focus and at the same time reminded us that systemic racism, inequality, and injustice in our nation, has been with us for over 400 years. And now, I am at a loss for words.
I don’t know what I am supposed to say or do.
I’m not sure what is next, and we are still in the midst of a global pandemic. Over 100,000 people in The United States have died from this virus.
The only thing I have been able to think of doing is returning to scripture, returning to Jesus.
The writer of The Gospel of John began with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” Since the beginning of time Jesus Christ has been present.
Jesus was present as the Spirit of God moved across the waters of creation. Jesus was there when the dry earth and the waters of the sea were gathered together.
Jesus was present as the Law was handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai.
Jesus was present in Mary’s womb, and as he began his ministry at the Jordan River, being baptized by his cousin John.
Jesus was present at a wedding celebration in Cana, and at the graveside of his friend Lazarus.
Jesus was present as his body hung on the cross, and Jesus was present on Easter morning when the Gospel Good News was proclaimed – Sin and Death would not get the last word.
Jesus was and continues to be present.
Mount Olivet has been repeating this truth throughout the COVID-19 pandemic but in the shadow of the horror, sadness, and anger of the past week we still must remember that Jesus is present. God has not abandoned us.
It is easy for Christians, white Christians, to default to Jesus being like us, looking like us, mirroring the image we see in our reflection each morning as we splash water on our face and begin a new day. It is easy to assume Jesus held the same privilege we hold; he is the Son of God after all. Jesus did not hold privilege or status in his community.
Howard Thurman wrote, “Now Jesus was not a Roman citizen. He was not protected by the normal guarantees of citizenship – that quiet sense of security which comes from knowing that you belong and the general climate of confidence which it inspires. If a Roman soldier pushed Jesus into a ditch, he could not appeal to Caesar; he would be just another Jew in the ditch. Standing always beyond the reach of citizen security, he was perpetually exposed to all the ‘arrows of outrageous fortune,’ and there was only a gratuitous refuge – if any – within the state.” (Thurman, Howard. Jesus and the Disinherited. Beacon Press, 1996.)
Jesus never sat in a place of power in the way we often think of “power.” When push came to shove Jesus sat and ate with, ministered to, and advocated for the marginalized. Jesus never excluded those in power from his ministry, but he was clear that the Kingdom of God, his kingdom, is one where last will be first. The marginalized, forgotten, and oppressed not only have a seat at His table of grace, but they are His honored guests.
Jesus did not belong, along with not holding confidence one has belonging within a privileged class of an empire, and yet his presence in this space was not something Jesus shied away from. Jesus remained present. Jesus remains present today in the spaces where those who do not hold the confidence one has belonging within a privileged class of the empire find themselves.
Jesus was present on the street in Minneapolis as George Floyd was pulled from the back of a police car, handcuffed. Jesus was next to George Floyd was he was choked to death with knees in neck and back.
Jesus has been present with the grieving, the angry, and those demanding change.
Jesus Christ is present.
In the Barmen Declaration, Karl Barth wrote, “Jesus Christ is the one Word of God, whom we have to hear, and whom we have to obey.”
As we move beyond Pentecost, may the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that descended on the ancient church, blow upon the saints of today. May we hear Jesus’ call to love. To, “'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27, NIV)
May the Spirit of God push us to demand equality and justice for all people, not because of a document written in 1776, rather because we have all been created equal by God.
Jesus Christ is present with us, freeing us from division, hate, and despair, and extending an invitation to step into his grace.
-Pastor Teer Hardy