“Oh how I love the name Jesus. It is the sweetest name I know.”
Easter Sunday will soon be upon us and celebrated in churches all across the country. These very familiar lyrics from “Something About the Name Jesus” will be sung in praise and honor of the bruised, beaten, executed and resurrected Son of God, Jesus Christ on whom Christianity was found. Starting with Good Friday, churchgoers across the country will sit in pews and be reminded of one of the most heinous executions known to man. And, while today the name of Jesus bears a sweet fragrance of forgiveness and redemption, this was a man who dared to speak an inconvenient truth and in doing so was considered a stench within a centuries old system of power that led to his brutal and headline worthy death over 2,000 years ago.
It is without question that the last few days of Jesus’ life would both captivate and dominate today’s news cycle and front page headlines. Here he was, undoubtedly a man of color, labeled as a rebellious outsider who took every opportunity to challenge the moral validity of the social norms instituted around him. Think about it…
· He called uneducated, ordinary men to follow Him
· He ate with sinners and tax collectors
· He “illegally” performed miracles on the Sabbath
· He called out those who claimed to be without sin
· He issued tough lessons on such things as forgiveness, anger, divorce, lust, giving to the needy, loving your neighbor, prayer, retaliation, fasting, money, the law…and the list goes on
Jesus challenged the status quo and was unfairly accused, unjustly tried, and violently executed through a system of supremacy that was not only stacked against him, but hell-bent on remaining the same.
Any of this sound familiar? Couldn’t you imagine Jesus’ name in a modern day, breaking news report blending in as yet another man of color unjustly vilified and murdered by a person of authority? Is it really that much of a reach to equate the names Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Jesus Christ within a setting of police brutality, a corrupt justice system, and unwarranted execution?
It’s perhaps a lot to think about but simply put, regardless of the surrounding circumstances, the long held narrative of rebel, thug, and deviant placed upon men of color has led to the gratuitous deaths of each of them. And such a story means that no matter what the circumstance, they never had a chance.
According to prophecy, neither did Jesus. The Biblical narrative describing his destiny indicates that his execution was inevitable. Of course, none of these men was the Son of God whose death was a fulfilled prophetic event nor did any of them serve as the redemption of souls and the path to reconciliation of God and man. But, each of these Black men brought an ugly and inconvenient truth out of the darkness and into the light, exposing supremacy, corruption, injustice, and prejudice within a system that has allowed our young men of color to be crucified without consequence. This Easter, I’m reminded that the time has come for change. That is, after all, what Easter is all about— transformation and change.
When we remember the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, it is not just so we can rehash a past injustice, contemplate our part in it, and wallow in guilt. On the contrary, it offers the most sacred opportunity to commit to becoming the kind of people God wants us to be. This is our chance to change the narrative of the sinner from a lost soul to one worthy of redemption. And, it asks us to uphold the principles of an ancient, radically spawned movement– Christianity. While on a tremendously smaller scale than that of Jesus Christ, the unjust deaths of people of color have arguably sparked both the Civil Rights Movement and Black Lives Matter Movement.
Regardless of race, we cannot recall the deaths of these young men just to rehash the past, contemplate our part in it, and wallow in guilt. On the contrary, we should ask that our nation, whose laws are by and large founded on the principles of Christianity, to work harder to become the nation that God wants it to be.
This Easter, as we gather in our churches, singing songs of praise and contemplating the sacrifice and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, let us also remember his boldness to speak the truth and the unstoppable movement that changed the world because of it.