OPENING PRAYER: A PRAYER FOR EASTER (Revised Common Lectionary, 2002)
Creator of the universe,
you made the world in beauty,
and restore all things in glory
through the victory of Jesus Christ.
We pray that, wherever your image is still disfigured
by poverty, sickness, selfishness,
racism, war and greed,
the new creation in Jesus Christ may appear in justice, love, and peace,
to the glory of your name.
THIS DAY IN HISTORY: APRIL 16, 1963
Letter from Birmingham Jail
On April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr., composed one of the seminal texts of our nation’s history from his jail cell in Birmingham Alabama.
Four days prior, on April 12, King and nearly 50 other civil rights protestors were arrested while leading a Good Friday demonstration in Birmingham. The protest was organized to bring national attention to police brutality, systemic racism, and Jim Crow segregation. For months prior to this demonstration, the community had engaged an organized boycott of the city’s white-owned-and-operated businesses. While these boycotts failed to yield the desired results of social transformation that King and others had hoped for, these leaders were undeterred in their mission. They met and decided to keep the pressure on the city by engaging in more militant, non-violent, direct action.
King and a number of other protestors were arrested for ignoring a recently passed ordinance that prohibited public gatherings without an official permit. For King, this arrest—his 13th—proved to be his most significant. Upon being arrested, King was thrown into solitary confinement. King was also initially denied access to his lawyers, and was not permitted his one phone call, to contact his wife. King’s rights were so infringed upon that President John F. Kennedy was urged to intervene on his behalf.
King, in an act of solidarity, chose not to be immediately bailed out of jail by his supporters. He instead agreed to a longer stay in jail to draw more attention to the unjust suffering of residents in Birmingham.
Shortly after King’s arrest, a friend smuggled in a copy of an April 12 Birmingham newspaper which included an open letter, written by eight local Christian and Jewish religious leaders, which criticized the protest, boycott, and King himself, whom they considered to be an outside agitator. King was very disappointed in his fellow clergymen and sat, prayed, lamented, and thought about how he should respond to the criticism. After a few hours, he began working on a response. Without access to notes or research materials, King penned a heartfelt defense of his use of militant, nonviolent, direct, actions.
Within the letter’s 7,000 words, he defended himself and the Civil Rights Movement, indicting the clergymen who wrote the open letter slandering him and the movement. He also called out the nation’s religious leaders and more moderate-minded white Americans, chastising them for sitting passively on the sidelines while Black America suffered and put their lives on the line, advocating for rights and freedoms that they should have been endowed with as U.S citizens.
King, lacking writing paper, initially began composing the letter by jotting down notes in the margin of the newspaper. When the letter was transcribed, it was 21 double-spaced, typed pages. Surprisingly, King never sent a copy to any of the eight Birmingham clergy who he “responded” to, leaving many to believe that he had intended it to have a much broader, national, audience all along.
SCRIPTURAL REFLECTION: ISAIAH 25:6-9
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, ‘Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.'”
RESPONSE OF REFLECTION AND REMEMBRANCE:
Please spend a moment reflecting on this past season of lament and learning. How has Jesus been forming you? What stories are still lingering in your heart and mind? Where are you called to engage more deeply in lament? Where are you called to experience hope and resurrection? Feel free to share any thoughts or commitments using: #lentenlament #easter
You may close with the following:
Alleluia! Christ is risen.
He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
CLOSING PRAYER: Easter Us (Walter Brueggemann, 1994)
You God who terrified the waters,
who crashed your thunder,
who shook the earth, and
scared the wits out of chaos.
You God who with strong arm saved your people
by miracle and wonder and majestic act.
You are the same God to whom we turn,
we turn in our days of trouble,
and in our weary nights;
we look for steadfast love and are dismayed,
we wait for your promises, but wait in fatigue,
we ponder your forgetfulness and lack of compassion,
and we grow silent.
Our lives, addressed to you,
have this bitter-sweet taste of
loud-clashing miracles and weak-kneed doubt.
So we come in our bewilderment and wonderment,
deeply trusting, almost afraid to trust much,
passionately insisting, too timid to insist much,
fervently hoping, exhausted for hoping too much.
Look upon us in our deep need,
mark the wounds of our brothers and sisters just here,
notice the turmoil in our lives, and the lives of our families,
credit the incongruity of the rich and the poor in our very city,
and the staggering injustices abroad in our land,
tend to the rage out of control, rage justified by displacement,
rage gone crazy by absence, silence, and deprivation,
measure the suffering,
count the sufferers,
number the wounds.
You tamer of chaos and mender of all tears in the canvas of creation,
we ponder your suffering,
your crown of thorns,
your garment taken in lottery,
your mocked life,
and now we throw upon your suffering humiliation,
the suffering of the world.
You defeater of death, whose power could not hold you,
come in your Easter,
come in your sweeping victory,
come in your glorious new life.
Easter us in joy and strength.
Be our God, be your true self, lord of life,
massively turn our life toward your life
and away from our anti-neighbor, anti-self deathliness.
Hear our thankful, grateful, unashamed allelujah!
–From Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Breuggemann