I am preaching today from the Equal Justice Initiative’s Peace and Justice Memorial Monument, known as the National Lynching Memorial in Montgomery, Alabama. I encourage you to go to YouTube and type in Lynching Memorial Alabama.
County by county across the United States, the memorial commemorates 4000 documented victims and countless thousands of undocumented victims of what Ida B. Wells called “our country’s national crime of lynching.”
Less than a mile away, the Equal Justice Initiative’s equally magnificent Legacy Museum charts America’s national sin from 12 million kidnapped and enslaved black bodies, to 9 million bodies terrorized by lynching, to the 10 million black bodies who have endured segregation and 9 million black bodies gripped by mass incarceration.
Before turning to today’s gospel passage, permit me to read excerpts from performer Cyrstal Valentine’s poem, “And the news reporter says Jesus is white.”
And the news reporter says
“Jesus is white.”
She says it with a smile on her face
Like it’s the most obvious thing in the world.
So sure of herself
Of her privilege
Her ability to change history
Rewrite bodies to make them look like her.
She says it the same way politicians say
“Racism no longer exists.” . . .
How can she say Jesus was a white man when he died the Blackest way possible?
With his hands up
With his mother watching
Crying at his feet
. . .
How the whole world was saved by a Black man?
By a man so loved by God he called him kin
Called him Black.
Now ain’t that suspicious?
Ain’t that newsworthy?
Ain’t that something worth being killed over?
Perhaps now we can hear today’s gospel passage from St. Mark, chapter 8, verses 34–37:
Jesus summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny themself,
take up their cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save their life will lose it,
but whoever loses their life for my sake
and that of the Gospel will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world
and forfeit their life?
What could one give in exchange for their life?
In our black, brown, and white bodies, we who follow the black Jesus are invited to remember the millions of black bodies broken by slavery, lynching, segregation, and mass incarceration, and to answer the question of today’s Gospel: “What could one give in exchange for their life?”
At the lynching memorial’s exit, a quotation from Tony Morrison’s Beloved invites ours affirmation of life. The quotation is about lynching, and it reads:
And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver—love it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.
Scripture passage from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.