“For he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:45 (KJV)
This past weekend, on May 23rd, Christians celebrated Pentecost Sunday, noting the time God sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in and among us shortly after Jesus’s death and resurrection 2,000 years ago. The advent of the Holy Ghost initiated the spread of the Good News to all nations.
Next weekend is Memorial Day Weekend. The first widely observed Memorial Day in the United States occurred on May 30, 1868, honoring soldiers who perished in the Civil War (1861-1865).
One week apart on our calendar, the first Pentecost and first Memorial Day share a common hope. One marks God’s relentless, infinite, and sacrificial love for us. The other asks us to pause to remember those we’ve lost and who sacrificed for us.
Thus, both invite deeper fellowship with one another and with our creator by remembering what life is about: just, loving, light-filled relationship within ourselves, with others, and with God, so that we might have shalom (peace—where nothing is broken and nothing is missing).
I can see ways forward in our country reflecting the expansive life Jesus offers us all.
Fulness of life, truly abundant living, requires we relish the joys of fellowship with each other and our God. And fulness requires we act as responsible stewards of ourselves, our relationships, and creation. Sometimes that costs us our very lives. With God’s guidance, we walk in wisdom to understand how to use our time, talent, and resources to cultivate conditions for flourishing as God envisioned it before sin and brokenness marred our world. Christ modeled this for us. Hebrews 12:2 (NIV) says “For the joy set before Him [our redemption!] he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Union soldiers died to preserve the Union and end slavery (Undoubtedly, Union soldiers were motivated to fight for different reasons, with many drafted and others volunteering, such as the over 200,000 Black soldiers who actively pursued the opportunity to take up arms for their liberation). The blood soldiers shed on battlefields across our nation, like the blood Jesus shed on the cross, created the basis for a new beginning, a new covenant.
Union victory in the Civil War ushered in the possibility for truly inclusive democracy. In the war’s wake, we enacted the 13th Amendment, which ended chattel slavery (except if convicted of a crime—a major loophole and limitation—but that’s another post!). The 14th Amendment established the basis for citizenship and guaranteed equal protection of the laws. And the 15th Amendment granted Black men the right to vote. The Union victory provided the portal to end the evil of slavery and begin the incorporation of African descendent people into this country on just terms (a process still ongoing today). These same amendments served as mechanisms for other socially marginalized groups to petition for fair inclusion in American society as well—from other racial and ethnic numerical minorities, to women, to LGBTQ people. Jesus’s obedience on the cross led to the removal of the sin-barrier between humanity and God, thus opening unrestricted access to the Father, our creator, through faith in His son Jesus.
Today, as we turn the corner on the coronavirus and imagine new possibilities for our country and the world, I’m emboldened as I meditate on the power and promise of what the Lord released on Pentecost Sunday so many centuries ago. Because of the Holy Ghost inside me, out ahead of me, and following up behind me, I can see ways forward in our country reflecting the expansive life Jesus offers us all—and how a lack of repentance in the face of oppression holds us all back.
Policy expert Heather McGhee, in her book The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, speaks about a “solidarity dividend” when people sacrificially collaborate across racial, class, gender, religious, and other social divisions. The enduring truth of her premise is as ripe today as it was on that first Pentecost Sunday when all people present heard the Good News of their inclusion in God’s family because of the Cross. It was also with those who were slain in the Civil War fighting for our country’s commitment to life and liberty for all (don’t miss the final scene in the Civil War movie “Glory” when Black soldiers storm Fort Wagner).
In solidarity then, let’s unleash our democracy to realize its full potential, in keeping with God unleashing the Holy Spirit, that we may all live abundantly in these days!
Won’t you join me in marching on?
In the beauty of the lilies
Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom
That transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy,
Let us die to make men free;
While God is marching on.
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.
“Battle Hymn of the Republic,” sung by Odetta (written by Julia Ward at the end of the Civil War)