I hesitate to write anything about this because grief, outrage, moral indignation, and racial tensions all seem continually ready to boil over, a wave of (justified) frustration and backlash ready to launch themselves at anyone who voices some sort of opinion. But then I read this the other day, about rioting in a GA high school and calls for more riots on Twitter, and then I spent some time looking at some of the awfully racist user comments posted in places like this.
My heart is very heavy. It is clear that some people view the death of Trayvon Martin as a last straw, as the latest in a long line of injustices that perhaps ought to push people over some sort of line. Some other people, on the other hand, are inclined to distrust or even belittle the instincts of those people. The investigation could still take weeks or even months. In the meantime George Zimmerman will be, for all practical purposes, on house arrest, and Sanford will not be at ease; nor, if he is tried, will it be easy for his trial to be fair. He has not been proven guilty yet – innocent until proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt is, ideally, the cornerstone of America’s justice system – and I think it is very easy to blur two kinds of anger here: anger that he was not initially arrested and anger that his guilty crime has not been punished. The former is understandable, but the latter has not yet been established.
And here we are at the beginning of Holy Week. What do Good Friday and Easter have to say to all of this? At the very least – more could certainly be said, but this would become unreasonably long – we can say that the reality of Jesus’ atoning death and victorious resurrection from the dead gives us a reason to believe that there is hope, that justice is real, and that reconciliation is possible. Jesus’ death at the hands of the first-century Roman ruling authorities demonstrated that what seem to be very impressive and final mechanisms of power can be relativized, that despite their seeming firm grip on reality these mechanisms of power may actually be completely blind to the true nature of reality, which means that their time is always almost up. It was true for Rome then, and it is true of systems of racial and economic prejudice now. We can look back on Rome and say things like this because it is now historically obvious; perhaps the demise of these prejudicial systems today is not so obvious, but then, neither was the demise of Rome to those Christians who first worked and died in its shadow, as seen in the New Testament writings.
And Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead is a standing gentle reminder that even death does not have the final say. We are to lament it and work against its causes, but its omnipresence will not last forever. The resurrection is, again, a testament to the availability of a different kind of life, to the presence of a different kind of kingdom, no matter how bleak or racially charged or injustice-laden the kingdoms we see around us might be.
What might reconciliation look like in this situation? I’m not sure. But I have a hunch that people’s responses to the death of Trayvon Martin can be charted along an axis, with Christ on one end and Rome on the other. Rome-responses are those that trust in mechanisms of violence, of frustration, and of overwhelming power; Christ-responses, on the other hand, subvert those things through sacrificial love, creatively nonviolent resistance, and a readiness to forgive. It is understandable that the black community would see in Trayvon’s death another in a long line of injustices. It is understandable that many feel frustration and are tired of patience and turning the other cheek. I can only plead: Don’t fall victim to the lie that mechanisms of power can bring some kind of salvation. To the extent that we in “white America” have believed that lie, we have both betrayed Christ (whether knowing so or not) and doomed ourselves.
Jesus’ death and resurrection, thought together as two sides of one saving event, both reveals where true love and life and salvation are found and reveals the patterns of life that are truly freedom- and salvation-bringing. It is my continuing prayer that everyone affected by, involved with, or angered by Trayvon’s death would somehow refocus on these truths this Holy Week.