Grace and Race: a Good Friday Reflection

“Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12: 28b – 31

Easter is one more occasion for us to hear the message of love again. But what does “love” mean in the context of a racist society? To experience what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself” requires leaving your comfort zone to engage with people from diverse backgrounds. Every person we meet has life experiences that serve as a basis for his or her values and attitudes toward life.

For me, as a Christian, loving my neighbor means being in healthy relationships with others. A healthy relationship does not require agreeing on everything – it does require striving to understand people from diverse backgrounds and experiences – and we cannot do that without serious, intentional communication.

The United States Attorney General Eric Holder said,

“Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards. Though race related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about race.”

My good friend Jim Street wrote:

On Easter Sunday, let us note that we gather to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus during what is still one of the most racially, culturally and socially segregated hours in American society.

Let us rightly discern the Lord’s body and let us ask ourselves how it is that this is the case. Let us pray for eyes to see the seemingly impenetrable wall that divides and keeps separate and the power of powers and principalities that captivate, manipulate and deceive for their own sakes rather than for the sake of humanity community.

Let us contemplate our racially, ethnically, socially, and economically polarized land and let us turn our eyes to our racially, ethnically, socially and economically polarized hearts.

And then, let us turn yet again to the great Good (Friday) News that we have only half-heartedly received:

“His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” (Ephesians 2: 15b-16)

Are grace and race related? Apparently Paul thought so. How can I love you, if I do not know you? Grace and Race should provide safe spaces and opportunities for dialogue for “we, average Americans” who want to obey the commandment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Will we take those opportunities?

That is the question I ponder for myself on this Good Friday.

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