By Dean Denniston
This coming Sunday is Easter Sunday-a time of, rebirth, renewal, celebration and the triumph of life over death, light over darkness, love over hate and hope over despair.
On Saturday of this same week, April 4, the eve of this sacred day with all of its promise and hope, many of us will pause to remember the life, and legacy of the Rev. Dr. MLK, Jr. whose life was tragically cut short by an assassin’s bullet forty seven years ago on that date.
I always find it interesting that year after year the anniversary of Dr. King's death invariably falls within Holy Week. And when I think of the two events together, I am always reminded of the fact that both Jesus and Dr. King traveled paths, the destination of which were known to each of them; … paths which were pre-ordained by God, … paths which ultimately would lead to their deaths, and paths which neither tried to avoid.
The morning lesson tells us that on the evening of his arrest, Jesus stated that he would be betrayed, and betrayed by one of his own disciples. The text tells us that Jesus even identified his betrayer.
And yet neither Jesus nor his disciples-who sound pretty clueless, according to the text, did anything to alter the course of events.
On the evening prior to his death in Memphis, Dr. King preached a sermon in which he stated that his on-going involvement in the civil rights struggle would probably shorten his life. He also spoke of the death threats which were going around in Memphis upon his arrival there.
Yet, Dr. King did not let this knowledge or these threats deter him from his intent to participate in the sanitation workers march scheduled for the following morning.
Why would these two individuals, one the Son of god, the other, one of his modern day prophets, both of whom already knowing or sensing the outcomes of their lives, continue along the paths chosen for them by God?
I believe that both Jesus and MLK not only understood and accepted the role that God had planned for them individually, but that they also gained strength and comfort from knowing that God’s plan was greater and more transformative than their individual lives. Moreover, by following the path chosen for them by God, they would create paths of opportunity for change, renewal and rebirth for others to follow.
This is not to say that Jesus or Dr. King did not at times have questions, or doubts with respect to the paths each had chosen to travel. The Gospels tell us that throughout his ministry, Jesus was in constant conflict with the civil and religious authorities of his day. He was constantly being hounded by crowds of people who regarded him more as a healer than as a preacher with a special message. He was rejected by the very people he was sent to save. And at the end he was betrayed, denied, and ultimately abandoned by his own disciples.
Faced with all of these on-going pressures, it is no wonder that we read accounts of Jesus slipping away from the crowds and from his disciples to be alone, to pray, to meditate, and to gather strength and resolve to continue on the journey chosen for him by his Father. It is only on the evening of his arrest while praying in the garden of Gethsemane that he finally lets go of any remaining doubts and declares “father, let this cup pass from me; not my will, but thy will be done”.
Dr. King also had to confront and overcome many obstacles in his efforts to guide a nation out of the darkness of segregation, bigotry, discrimination and inequality … into the light of, change, hope and social and economic justice. One can surmise that in spite of his unwavering commitment to his cause and also his abiding faith in God, Dr. King experienced moments when he questioned the path God had chosen for him. He was opposed by the leadership of his own government, harassed by federal authorities, arrested, beaten, threatened, and at one point was stabbed and almost died. Furthermore, within the civil rights movement itself, there were those whose ideas, goals and methods were in opposition to his non-violent approach to achieving racial and economic equality.
Yet, Dr. King remained steadfast to the plan which God had chosen for him.
God offers us a plan to follow. Unfortunately, unlike Jesus and Dr. King, we spend most of our time and much of our energy trying to, either avoid, alter, or renegotiate that plan. Too often our focus is on what we want or what we need, not what God wants us to do. And yet, if we were to refocus our attention and our energy on what God wants for us we would realize that when you break everything down to its lowest common denominator, all God wants for us is for us to love God, and to love and serve one another. It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
On the evening of his betrayal and arrest, Jesus shared a final meal with his disciples, washed their feet, and told them that they should love one another as he had loved them, and to be servants to one another and to go into the world and live this message.
On the evening prior to his death, MLK preached a sermon in which he told the assembled congregation of clergy, laity, civil rights leaders, and others gathered to hear his words that God had enabled him to go up the mountain and look over and see the promise land. King stated “… I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go up the mountain, and I’ve looked over and I have seen the Promised land. I may not get there with you but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promise land”.
Dr. King did not let the threat of death prevent him from carrying out God’s plan for him. Having heard the rumors of threats upon his life, he nevertheless was determined to lead the march on the following morning. He didn’t hide, he didn’t feign illness, he didn’t appoint a deputy to go in his place. No, he followed God’s plan.
Jesus knew and accepted that his death was part of God’s plan. His death and resurrection would be the catalyst which enabled all of us to be born again into God’s kingdom.
Jesus’ death is our salvation. That is the powerful meaning of the resurrection. Jesus went to his death willingly so that we could be reborn in the spirit; that we could arise from the depths of our own sins and receive God’s saving grace.
That is the lesson of Holy Week.
King's Chapel often asks guest preachers to provide sermons for services. You can read the sermons of our guest preachers here.