“Every now and then I think about my own death, and I think about my own funeral. Every now and then I ask myself, ‘What is it that I want said?’ I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to be able to say that day, that I did try to feed the hungry...I want you to say, on that day, that I did try, in my life, to visit those who were in prison. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”
- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
This week marked 49 years since the death of preacher, social reformer, and civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who was assassinated on April 4, 1968. Remembering MLK's death and struggle for human rights is fitting this week as we also reflect and contemplate on the crucifixion of Jesus, another religious and politically divisive figure. In our lengthy Gospel lectionary text, Jesus takes his disciples to a place called Gethsemane at night after their Passover dinner. The passage notes that Jesus was "agitated" as he says to them, "I am deeply grieved, even to death: remain here, and stay awake with me." Jesus knows that he is a target of many who want him dead, but Jesus cannot bear this grief alone. Although Jesus knows that his betrayal is imminent, this knowledge does not mean freedom from the pain of betrayal and his approaching crucifixion. Jesus' faith and doubts coexist in his dark moments like this one in Gethsemane. It is important to remember that Jesus doubts, suffers, and trusts God in the same ways that we are discovering in our lives. In the dark garden of Gethsemane, Jesus pleads for the support of his community of friends. "Stay awake." The call to stay awake is a call to prayer and solidarity with those who are grieving, anxious, and distressed. We discover later in the story that it is a call to non-violent resistance. It is a call to self-offering love in the face of danger and uncertainty. It is a call that MLK understood and embodied.
Starting the day after Easter, the state of Arkansas is scheduled to execute 8 men in 11 days. As Christian activist Shane Claiborne writes, "How we understand what happened on the cross 2,000 years ago shapes how we understand capital punishment today." The cross leads to resurrection and the hope of a peaceful world and humanity in Christ, but we are constantly reminded that the same systems of violence that executed Jesus are still hard at work.
At the Landmark for Peace in Indianapolis, there is a 3D memorial of MLK and Robert Kennedy, another social reformer assassinated just weeks after MLK. At the memorial, their outstretched hands reach for one another. These two pioneering individuals reached out for peace and unity in a time of division and unrest. This week, may we acknowledge the violence that has taken so many great people from our world. May we remember that when the empire and powers of compulsion take up the sword, Jesus reaches out his hand and restores. May we have the courage to do the same in the face of violent threats. May we hear the call to greater unity with all creation and initiate the peace of Christ in our world today.