On Easter Sunday morning I was not in my usual pew at Prairie Baptist Church; rather, I attended Riverbend Church in Austin, Texas, which counts as a mega-church by any calculation. Lively music, heartfelt testimony, and a brief, yet memorable sermon comprised the 50 minute service (we had to hustle out in order to let the next batch of congregants/visitors have our seats.) After praying briefly to be raptured to an Episcopal Church for more liturgical fare, I sought to listen as attentively as I could, believing there is always something to learn through others’ patterns of worship.
The gist of the sermon was: “He got up so that we might get up.” Repeated several times, it was impossible for the message not to be imprinted on the hearers! While I might have preferred greater probing of resurrection as the center of gravity of Christian belief, the minister was making the point that the resurrection is not simply a past tense event; its significance can have enduring effect as the power of life over death transforms those weighted by the destructive power of sin. As Acts 10:43 proclaims: “. . .everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
The weight of sin predominates in our violent culture as persons are judged by the color of their skin. On the heels of the killing of Trayvon Martin is word of a racially tinged shooting rampage in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This city has a sordid history of racial violence and a long memory. Growing up in segregated schools in nearby Muskogee, I heard the stories of intense hatred that divided the city into black and white zones—divisions which linger in our day.
The cross prompts awakening to the power of sin in individual lives as well as its systemic force in a structure like racism. Racism is violent; “othering,” a word create scholar Gary Green used in his senior sermon, prompts violence. Observing the innocent suffering of the One who would rather experience violence than inflict it overturns how we think things work and calls for repentance.
Humans have returned evil for evil for so long that this new way of vulnerable forgiveness shakes our core practices. Of course, we expected that our nation would avenge the deaths of those killed in the twin towers; of course, pre-emptive strikes against rival powers or maintaining a balance of terror through mutually destructive nuclear arsenals is how we believe the world works. How radically does Jesus’ way of peace judge this pattern!
“God shows no partiality,” Peter proclaimed to the household of Cornelius. Overcoming racial violence in our day will require the same sort of conversion of heart that this apostle experienced. He learned not to call unclean or profane those God was including, the Gentiles. Christ has risen that we might get to the tasks of overcoming evil with good.
Molly T. Marshall
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