Note: A personal and biblical reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day originally posted on Monday, January 18, 2016 and, here, revised.
The angel of the Lord appeared to (Moses) in a flame of fire from a bush that was blazing, yet not consumed. God called, “Moses, Moses!” He said, “Here I am.” (God) said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3.2, 4, 6a, 7-8a, 10; abridged and paraphrased).
Martin stood in the line and light of Moses, taking up the mantle of the ministry of leading people (some might say black – but, I believe, all – Americans) out of the bondage of discrimination. Today, Martin, assassinated on April 4, 1968, has been gone for more than a half-century. Moses, far longer. Yet their labors, the labor of lifting up the oppressed remains, in this day and time, surely and, therefore, sadly necessary.
In reflecting on the lives and legacies of Moses and Martin, believing their labors to be fitting for all good-willed folk, I speak for myself within the character of my chosen Christian identity and within the context of my community, the church.
The church is no sentimental memorial society commemorating a dear, dead leader. The church, called into being in response to Jesus’ command, “Do this in remembrance of me,” exists to remember his sacrifice; his body broken and his blood shed on the cross of his crucifixion.
And to remember that God sent Jesus to be the last sacrifice, the last victim.
And to remember that the breaking of the bread and sharing the cup is “not for solace only, but for strength.”
And to remember that in the strength derived from partaking of spiritual food, Christians are to go down to Egypt – a metaphor for anywhere and everywhere in a world that, failing to understand the meaning of the cross, continues to seek and make sacrificial victims – and to labor so that no one of any class or color, tribe or clan, sex or gendered identity, social group or political party will be victimized and crucified on the twin Calvary crosses of phobia and prejudice.
This Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and every day, I hear the vox Dei, the voice of God, saying, singing, “Paul, go down and (your name here) go down. ‘Way down in Egypt land. Tell ole Pharaoh, ‘Let my people go!’”
© 2021 PRA
“…not for solace only, but for strength” from Eucharistic Prayer C, The Book of Common Prayer, page 372.
Go Down, Moses, Negro spiritual, author unknown; c. early-19th century.
Illustration: Moses and the Burning Bush, Sébastien Bourdon (1616-1671)
Photograph: Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, Washington, DC (January 14, 2012)