Series editor’s note: Throughout 2021, “Deeper understandings” will continue to engage the ELCA’s commitment to authentic diversity. Anthony Bateza will carry on this theme in the next issue. —Kathryn A. Kleinhans, dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University, Columbus, Ohio
With great excitement, we welcomed 2020: a new year inaugurating a new decade. Then, as if to remind us of our mortal limitations in foretelling what our tomorrows will be, the COVID-19 pandemic struck. We had no clue what the world would face because of the fast-spreading virus. By the end of 2020, millions of people around the world had died.
Initially, people were busy doing a “compare-contrast” exercise. For humans, this was a time of lockdown and face masks, but birds and other animals could roam as usual. The environment got its turn to experience a moment of fresh air, the result of temporarily decreased pollution.
In the meantime, the cries of those dying of COVID-19 could not be fully heard or understood. This was a cry of love, of wanting to be with loved ones before they departed. It was a cry for love, and a cry to God to restore normalcy.
We need to ask if bodies were valued equally—while alive, during medical treatment or when they died. There have been recent cases in which “isms,” based only on skin color, have been applied to bodies, even in death. Earlier this year a Black deputy sheriff in Louisiana was denied burial in a “whites-only cemetery.”
God’s work of creation continued uninterrupted when God turned Jesus’ tomb into a new womb and raised Jesus from the dead.
When George Floyd died, his cry for life and life-breath was heard by the world. Some said it took 8 minutes and 46 seconds for him to be killed in public. But no—the knees of racial violence and injustice have been on the necks of our siblings of color for much longer.
That is what collective racism looks like: the power to distort history, to silence the cries of the marginalized. We thank God for the now-historic phone recording that enabled us to hear Floyd’s cry of “I can’t breathe,” and allowed his violent death to prompt a movement for justice and equity. All over the world, experiences of a “knee on the neck” were shared, of siblings’ wounds throughout history, of both young and old. This is the pandemic of racism.
Floyd’s cry for life-breath reverberated, and each heard this cry and interpreted it in their own languages and context. Bodies gathered across the globe to protest the knee on his neck. This wasn’t the time to compare and contrast whose suffering was more severe throughout history. Rather, it was time to grasp the moment for change and to march for justice, ordering patriarchal, abusive, power-hungry knees to get off necks, once and for all.
The resurrection experience
We celebrate Easter this month. Let us remember that Christ came to the cross because the “powers” wanted to exhibit their authority—even over Jesus. A large stone was placed on the mouth of the tomb by those powers, who said, “If we don’t seal the tomb, one of Jesus’ disciples may come and steal the body and claim that Jesus is risen.” Even then, those in power were sowing conspiracy theories as truth in order to retain that power.
God’s work of creation—the beginning of life, the bursting forth of life from the time of creation—continued uninterrupted when God turned Jesus’ tomb into a new womb and raised Jesus from the dead. The life-breath God breathed into Adam (humanity) at the time of creation wasn’t meant as a temporary gift to one individual. It was a gift of grace given to the whole of humanity, beginning with Adam. To fight for life in the womb and determine who has the right of choice is not enough. We must love life unconditionally, unbiased, forever. That is the resurrection experience!
When [Jesus] had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22).
We can’t flee from justice to protect our vested interests or turn away from racial justice to preserve a claimed “privilege” based on skin color. Skin is only a boundary for the body; just beneath it runs blood, which differs in type, not in value. An A-positive blood type doesn’t mean that B-negative blood is seen as a lesser grade. Our bodies aren’t meant for grading but for love—mutual, selfless love.
If there’s one thing these two pandemics have taught us, it’s this: Everyone is equal before God because we are all created in the image of God. God waits to breathe new life, faith and grace upon us as we turn to God, and to enable everybody—every body—to draw the life-breath of freedom back into their bodies and souls. God bless us all!