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Keep Riding: An Anti-Racist Devotional by Rev. Emily Joye

Keep Riding: An Anti-Racist Devotional by Rev. Emily Joye

Prayer of obedience: God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Open to us, dear God, the gates of righteousness that we may enter through them and give thanks. All of this I ask in the name of Jesus, my refuge and strength. Amen.

Day of the journey toward Jerusalem.

Day of the untied colt. The infamous donkey.

Day of the Palms. Straw on the sidewalk.

Day of the cloaks. Garments spread in honor. 

Day of the crowd crying out Hosanna. Save us, we beseech you, Oh god. 

Day of the street processional; Sometimes I wish we called it Street Sunday instead of Palm Sunday. 

My sanitized socialization as a white middle class Christian brings back memories of blonde haired white girls in dresses waving green branches in church, their parents gazing adoringly as they symbolically connect to a story of old. But I think if there were an appropriate reenactment it’d look way more like Saturday. Perhaps the gift of preaching the lectionary text for Palm Sunday three days after Palm Sunday in the year of 2018 in North America, is the gift of being able to truly take in and process “The March for Our Lives” in preparation for this proclaimed word. 

Could not Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem have been called a March for our Lives? Dehumanizing violence looks pretty similar across continents and countries and time segments throughout the course of history. And while resistance tactics and methods may shape shift here and there, I know the presence of Christ in a brown queer kid with a shaved head holding defiant silence when I see it. I know Christ in the cross of a sister about to testify about her brother’s murder and connect it to Stephon Clark’s murder in a crowd full of people who don’t even know who Stephon Clark is; I know Christ in the unapologetic blackness of an 11 year old girl naming the all too often unnamed victims of gun violence.  Saturday was one big Hosanna if I’ve ever seen one. Gratitude and blessings particularly upon Naomi Wadler, Emma Gonzales, and Edna Chavez--girls of color, doing what Womanists have theologized from the beginning of time: making a way out of no way. 

Save Us. They cried. 

Save Us. We cry. 

From guns.

From gun violence.

From the gun lobby.

From bought politicians who sacrifice children before their own re-electability.  

From an era of history where schools have become combat zones. 

Save Us from the violence of white supremacy and patriarchy that is at the root of all of this harm. 

Hosanna. Save us. 

It’s been pointed out by black youth organizers and their comrades all month that The March for our Lives is not the first time young people have been challenging gun violence; that this kind of collective outcry and organized resistance has been and continues to be central to communities of color; and this media attention and widespread receptivity toward the the lighter shades of outcry and resistance just highlights the ongoing anti-black/benevolent-white bias in our social messaging and collective behavior. I’ve been particularly impacted by the writings of Janaya Khan on this dynamic. 

It is paramount that those of us who are white sit with this call-out right now, that we ask ourselves why we are willing to enter the processional with palms and cloaks when Parkland calls but not BLM. Alicia Garza writes: Given the disproportionate impact state violence has on Black lives, we understand that when Black people in this country get free, the benefits will be wide reaching and transformative for society as a whole. When Black people get free, everybody gets free. 

I shudder to think about where we’d be in this country in the task of eliminating violence if we’d been showing up alongside black organizers and black led freedom movements all along. And if white folks take nothing else away from this sermon, I hope we hear this: we must show up, with the same, if not more, enthusiasm, solidarity, and support when leaders and organizers from communities of color call us. I hear reverberations from Jesus’ words in our text from today, Mark 11 v2: untie it and bring it. May it be so. 

So as I move from the contemporary to the historic, I want to trace critical elements of identity, culture and memory in this passage. This is part of the task of anti-racist hermeneutics over here at the anti-racist devotional. So to Mark 11...

Jesus was part of a Jewish sect known as The Way and in Mark 11 it was Passover time. He was entering a Roman occupied territory where Jews yearly commemorated Exodus history. That history, that collective memory and story-telling, included themes of domination, slavery, freedom and most importantly deliverance from bondage. With those themes in the air, Jesus brought his crew to the epicenter of what was for them contemporary oppressive power. Many of the folks gathered in that epicenter had expectations of their own deliverance from bondage. Some expected a coup. Some expected full fledged war. Some expected a rightful transfer of political and religious power. Some expected the right king to claim his throne according to biblical prophecy. And all of those expectations were in the air as Jesus made his way. 

People laying down palms and cloaks, people singing Hosanna--this was a customary practice where big expectations followed leadership in Ancient Judaism. We see these biblical tropes in Zechariah, the Maccabean texts, and Psalm 118: 25-26. These practices appeared for David, for Elijah and Elisha, and for kings assuming the throne within Jewish history. This wasn’t the first time branches and garments were on the ground. This was Jesus’ people acknowledging his power, acknowledging his place in their history, and making explicit their expectations for his leadership. Hosanna. Save us. We beesech you.  

Secondly: we know that Rome had no tolerance for sedition, that the mere hint of power outside of itself could unleash reigns of terror upon the projected source of threat. We know public and private torture, displays of punishment for treason were commonplace, that the Empire preserved its power to destroy over and against all things. 

So we’ve got folks echoing an ancient call to be saved. We’ve got folks making it explicit, through acts of ritual acknowledgment, that the expectations to be saved are on Jesus as he rides that donkey toward the desecrated Temple, toward Pilate, toward the High Priests, toward the soldiers, toward the floggers, toward the forsaking friends in the midnight hour, toward the cross. 

All I can see as I reflect on this text and our world is the organizers in Ferguson facing tanks, the three girls I started this sermon with facing the NRA. 

That’s a lot to carry. It’s too much to carry. 

It’s one thing to have expectations and acknowledgement of power as it makes its entrance. It’s a whole other thing to keep our skin in the game as power makes its actual protest. 

When I think about this load to carry and what’s to come, I think about so many of you out there, my colleagues and comrades, too many to name individually but you know who you are, social justice leaders, clergy and activists and organizers, veteran social change agents and newly annointed wave makers...doing the work, those of you who keep riding despite the load. 

And I just want to shower love on you. Can I? 

Can I love on those who bring the Christ forth in the flesh by challenging oppression and ushering in deliverance in acts great and small every day? Can I do that? I want to do that. 

I want to send encouragement to those who are lonely and abandoned on the road to confrontation, who find themselves loved at the megaphone but hated when they’re mandating policy change. Here’s to you if you are labeled radical, overly committed to your integrity at the expense of other people’s comfort, more invested in the possibility of freedom than the doldrums of daily life under forced occupation and false power. Here’s to your movement, to your refusal. Here’s to your commitment, your imagination, your resolve. 

I want to tell you what I see: I see that the love of God in you, the love of life in you, is greater than anything else. That when you keep riding even though Pilate’s parade just a week ago drew a much bigger crowd, that when you press in moments when other people’s articulated expectations far outweigh their willingness to be in the ring with you, that when you are willing to hold it down despite your comrades disappearing or worse, derailing your work, when other people refusing to access their own power balk at you seizing yours, when people would rather wave palms than wake the hell up and you know it but you keep riding, I see the love of God in you, the love of life in you.  

You keep on riding. And when you do, you become the prayers that save us, to borrow a phrase from two-spirit indigenous poet Quo-li Driskill. Your life, your activism, your words, your legacy become the prayers that save us. Your acts of confrontation reckon with the power structures many of us mourn but will not divest from. Your love made visible in acts of creative resistance are the foundations for a future worthy of life itself. You become the prayers that save us. You become Hosanna. You. 

So to organizers and activists from Ferguson to Baltimore to NY to Parkland to my hometown of Battle Creek, especially those of you who are new and scared or old and tired--blessings be upon you. Blessings be the ones who come ushering righteousness, delivering truth, serving justice. Blessings be upon you. 

May this sermon bless your spirit, be a blessing unto your whole heart where the resurrected Christ lives and moves and has their being. May you find renewed energy this day, knowing you are seen and valued, knowing your works to abolish white supremacy, to address the root causes of violence, to confront patriarchy, to be who you truly are in a world terrified of your authenticity, to love God and to love life itself in the street and beyond, to the cross, to the grave, to the God who promises to meet at you at death and transform you there every single time--that IS the processional. Keep riding, beloved. Keep riding. 

And now, may the Lord give abundant strength unto Her people; May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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