There was something sacred about Memorial Day and the Day of Pentecost falling on the same long weekend. I'm sure many preachers around the country engaged in some homiletic interpretation of this convergent moment. In addition to those two moments, we cannot ignore the fact that during that same long weekend Officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty in the shooting deaths of two unarmed African Americans. That weekend therefore held a lot of weight for me and many others who are concerned about justice. As a minister who attempts to keep her work grounded in social and racial justice, I was intrigued by the potential symbolism held here. And I wanted so desperately to compose a sermon that reflected on these three historical and contemporary moments. Unfortunately, I was not in a position to freely preach the fullness of my radical ramblings that weekend. Therefore I will share them here.
On Memorial Day we remember the casualties of war. And for many Americans the unjustified and unpunished violence against Black bodies perpetuated by law enforcement has often felt like war. People like Timothy Russell, Malissa Williams, Michael Brown, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd and Eric Garner feel like the casualties of this war. Therefore during this year's Memorial Day weekend some chose to honor and remember those who lost their lives to police brutality in addition to those who lost their lives to more 'traditional' wars.
A symbolic "civil war" has been waging since the time of the American Civil War. America has struggled since Emancipation to know how to truly end slavery and unravel its legacy. We have struggled to know how to rid our culture of this foundational notion that there are certain groups of people whose citizenship and humanity is less valuable than others or can be determined by others. And every time an innocent black person is killed by a member of law enforcement and no one is held accountable, America is hit with an aftershock of this legacy and a reminder that "it" is not "over."
In the century and a half since the end of the American Civil War there have been aftershocks of the legacy. Yet there have also been waves of struggle and resistance. And with each new wave new prophetic voices rise up and help us to understand a little better and get just a little closer to true healing and reconciliation. These voices often resemble the diversity held in the words of the Prophet Joel quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost:
In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.-Acts 217
The Holy Spirit fell on people of all ages, genders and socioeconomic statuses and made them into cross-cultural communicators, seers of visions, dreamers of dream and speakers of the prophecy. That 'Spirit' of Pentecost is always in the midst of the struggle for racial justice in this country. And in this present generation, we seek justice and declare that #blacklivesmatter and tell people to #sayhername. There is no doubt in my mind that this Day of Pentecost energy is the fuel behind much of this present day movement.
This is not an attempt to add a Christian twist to a movement that isn't necessarily Christian (although many of the young prophetic activist who have taken the lead in this new movement have very solid roots in many faith traditions). Yet the movement itself feels "Pentecostal" in that is has gathered people of all ages, races, orientations and gender expressions. And it has allowed people of "all flesh" to dream dreams and call forth a "new earth" where all black bodies matter and are worthy of life.