Scripture: Mark 9:2-8
For all the Saints, who from their labors rest . . . . . It is one of my favorite hymns. It is impossible for me to get through it without tears streaming down my face. It is good to remember those who have gone before us, to think about the example of faithful living they have left behind for us, and to think about our own legacy.
When it comes to All Saints Day, funerals, and other times we intentionally think about those who have passed, we tend to only focus on the positive things our loved ones have left us. But it is Lent and a time for deeper reflection. When it comes to being in community with all the saints, I think it is important to also reflect on the legacies that the saints have left behind for us that we are working to change.
I’m part of a group at work that is listening to the podcasts of the 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones for the New York Times. In the first episode, we learn a bit about President Abraham Lincoln, who tends to be thought about as one of the great saints of the United States. He tends to be referred to as the great emancipator. He is usually seen as a hero. In the podcast, around the twenty minute mark, we learn about a meeting President Lincoln had with five freed Black men from the DC area, where he wants to share with them his idea of freeing the nearly 4 million slaves. He also wants to introduce them to one of his new staff members, James Mitchell, the new commissioner of emigration. See, the plan that the great emancipator had was to free the slaves and then have them all exit the country. He had no grand vision of the lion laying down with the lamb or of a beloved community where people of all different skin hues could live side by side. His plan was never to level the playing field for Black people in the US. His plan was to never ask white Americans to have a change of heart towards those who are Black. His plan was to send the reminder of this great American sin of slavery away, while at the same time, enjoying the wealth it brought to many white families here and around the world. Out of sight out of mind.
Instead of seeing our full humanity, instead of imaging what it would be to give black families 40 acres and a mule or the same support white immigrants had received, instead of asking the country to move toward a change of heart about people who just happened to have darker skin, his plan was to send 4 million people away. Heroes, saints, are complex. And that is worth wrestling with this Lenten season.
For most of us, the saints that we will be remembering won’t be national heroes, but ordinary folks, from regular communities. The people you are thinking about are those you called grandma or grandpa, mom or dad, aunt or uncle, or dear family friend. Yet they could have been the Archie Bunker of the family, always spreading racist ideas at family gatherings and no one speaking up to show the little ones who are building their worldviews, that not everyone agrees with those ideas. Some of our saints were silent when they should have spoken up.
The saints you are thinking about were public servants in your communities. They were the ones who supported road projects that keep the white and black parts of town separate and unequal, created complex bus routes, so it was hard for black people to get to work on time. Your saints may be those who had forgotten that there were already people on this land that you now call New Town and also forgotten the violent way that land had been taken away from the Indigenous people, who were labeled savage.
The saints you remember and who showered you with love taught you that being color blind was the best way to see the world. They deeply thought it was right, not knowing that color blind thinking was a veil, that kept the truth of injustice and inequalities that can be traced all the way back to 1619, hidden from view. Color blind thinking led to indifference and the false belief that the way things are, are the way things are meant to be and hadn’t been socially engineered by racist ideologies. They may not have known better, but now that we do, we need to have a grander imagination than our national heroes of old. We need to emancipate ourselves from communities socially engineered by racist ideologies and leave a legacy of communities socially engineered by the belief in the image of the beloved community. One of the things we can learn from the saints that have gone before us is how we don’t want to live. There are lessons in the ideal as well as in the mistakes that have been made.
Live in community with the saints that have gone before us.