This year, Easter falls on the same day as the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee. As we face so many challenges and heartache in our country with the Chauvin trial, the unrelenting injustice of poverty, the pandemic, and each of our personal struggles, I am reminded of Dr. King’s sermon, “A Knock at Midnight.” It is based on the Gospel of Luke 11:5-6 when he preached about the role of the church in dealing with contemporary problems.
In that talk, Dr. King spoke about the need for the church to be a conscience for the nation. He said, “One of the shameful tragedies of history is the very institution which should remove man from the midnight of racial segregation participates in creating and perpetuating the midnight…The church must be reminded that it is not the master or servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” he also wrote about White Christian pastors and their lukewarm acceptance of injustice, oppression, and violence. He said, “First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negroes’ great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s ‘Counciler’ or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’ Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
This morning, I attended a sunrise service in the memorial garden at Maximo Presbyterian Church in St. Petersburg, Florida. At that service, in the prayer of confession, we said, “O God, you raised Christ from the tomb and shattered the powers of sin and evil…You cast a vision for peace and justice. Forgive us when we cannot imagine it.” The church has too often been a social club characterized by lukewarm acceptance of oppression, violence, and injustice.
The good news of Easter is about new life and hope. This Easter season, with all that is happening in our homes, cities, nation, and world, let us together imagine justice, speak up. and do the right thing. Dr. King died on April 4, 1968; his legacy calls us to a new way of living that is bringing healing and hope to our nation and world this Easter season. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed.