Beloved St. John’s community,
Today is Maundy Thursday—the first of the great three days before Easter. This is the time of descent with Jesus into his last supper with his disciples, his betrayal, time in Gethsemane, arrest, trial, and crucifixion. Since we all know the end of the story, it might be tempting to skip over this part. But the heart of Christian faith is precisely this—that God meets us at the place of greatest pain, loss, betrayal, violence and death, suffers these things alongside them, and then shows us a way through. It’s about the paradox of death and resurrection, hope where there was no hope, and the presence of God in and with and for the oppressed, in the grittiest and most painful places of human existence.
It’s also the fourth day of the trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer who killed George Floyd ten months ago. This week, we’ve heard different narratives about what happened to Mr. Floyd. We’ve heard witnesses, some of them very young, describe what they saw and how it impacted them. We, and the world, are watching to see what will happen—whether justice will be done; whether justice can be done in this system.
And today, putting those two things together, what is our word of hope, this Maundy Thursday?
The word “Maundy” comes from the latin mandatum, meaning “to command”—which refers to what Jesus said to his disciples at the last supper:
A new commandment I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34
This is that word of hope. Jesus tells us to love—and, more specifically, to love as he has loved us. That love is not primarily the sentimental, warm affection we often associate with love. It’s the wildly overflowing, sacrificial love that pours itself out for the other. It’s the love that has Jesus pausing to speak with the Samaritan woman at the well even though it was against convention and even what was considered appropriate. It is the love that has Jesus healing, offering teaching to crowds even when he is exhausted, and the love that leads him, later this same night, to say to God in the Garden of Gethsemane: Not my will, but thine be done.
I believe this Maundy Thursday provides us an opportunity to allow self-centeredness, fear, deception and hatred to be surrendered to God, and to allow ourselves to utterly receive the love of God in Christ. Then, let us look again at the scene of Derek Chauvin pressing his knee for nine minutes on George Floyd’s neck. We don’t want to, but it is there before all the world. What does love look like in this moment?
I can tell you what my own reflections have been about this, and I invite you to make space for your own. I feel most compelled to join trial witness Darnella Frazier, who was standing by as these events happened, and see in George Floyd not someone outside my circle, but see my own brother. It’s not just that if it happened to Mr. Floyd it could happen to my own brother Steve; it’s that Mr. Floyd IS my brother.
Some of you might be familiar with the story of Jonathan Daniels, a young white man who was an Episcopalian and who threw himself without reservation into supporting the Civil Rights movement alongsisde African American brothers and sisters in the 60’s. He was lit on fire on March 7, 1965, when he and other seminarians watched the television footage of police brutalizing peaceful demonstrators at Selma. For him, it might have been like what it has been for us to see the video of George Floyd being killed. He could no longer stand by and watch. He said:
I could not stand by in benevolent dispassion any longer without compromising everything I know and love and value…. 1
He later wrote:
I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection . . . with them, the black men and white men, with all life, in him whose Name is above all names that the races and nations shout . . . we are indelibly and unspeakably one.2
In August of that same year, he and others were arrested at a demonstration and spend six days in jail in Alabama. When they were released and went to the store for sodas, a police officer was waiting for them and attempted to shoot Ruby Sales, a black teenager in the group. Jonathan threw himself in front of her and was killed.
What love looked like in that moment was that Jonathan’s very body reacted as if Ruby were his sister. He didn’t have to think about it, or spend long periods of time discerning how the Spirit was leading. He loved her and he just did whatever he had to do to protect her, because his own body had experienced the truth that “we are indelibly and unspeakably one.” On that day in 1965, that was what love looked like.
Jesus loved and loves us so greatly that there is no length to which he would not go to heal, teach, liberate, and proclaim good news to everyone he met. For us today, let’s start with what is in front of us. How can we love in these days?
You could join me tomorrow at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in St. Paul at 3:30 for a 1.6 mile Stations of the Cross outdoor walk / pilgrimage to the memorial of Philando Castile, and hear his mother Valerie Castile pray with us. We can be family with their family.
You could join us every day at 8:00am for a zoom prayer in “Healing Our City” Prayer tent, which is occurring for the duration of Derek Chauvin’s trial.
You could simply practice internally saying to yourself every time you see anyone, “you are my family.”
We can let our hearts soften, we can let ourselves change, we can be generous and humble and free.
My prayers are for all of us as we journey with Jesus to the cross. Let’s allow everything that prevents us from seeing one another as family to die. Then let’s allow the overwhelming love of God to pour through us like a river.
Faithfully, in Christ’s love,
1 “Jonathan Daniels 1939-1965,” The Church Awakens: African Americans and the Struggle for Justice exhibit, Episcopal Church Archives, https://episcopalarchives.org/church-awakens/exhibits/show/leadership/clergy/daniels, accessed April 1, 2021, quoted in Stephanie Spellers, The Church Cracked Open: Disruption, Decline, and New Hope for the Beloved Community (Church Publishing Incorporated 2021) at 81.
2 Id. At 82.