A Pastoral Word
Lenten Theme: Freedom Riders: Marching Our Way to Jerusalem
"Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around, Turn me around, turn me around. Ain't gonna let nobody turn me around. Keep on a-walkin', keep on a-talkin' Gonna build a brand new world."
Above are part of the lyrics from the song, "Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around." This song is considered a "Freedom Song" and was used as part of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. As I read these lyrics, I realized that they contained something similar that may have been running through Jesus' head as he began his way towards Jerusalem. 1l2mately, he 3new what awaited him within the walls of that city, but he wasn't gonna let anyone turn him around. The purpose of his journey, the purpose for his journey was too important.
We are told in the Gospel of Luke that "when the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Luke 9: 51). Before this moment, Jesus had been teaching and preaching. "Jesus had been proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God and with it the joy of relationship with God, and of healing, redemption, and love. But now the time had come to confront the obstacles that had been placed in front of the good news; this will mean suffering, humiliation, failure, and death, and only afterwards the experience of resurrection."
Tension mounted as Jesus made his way to Jerusalem. There was conflict with the powers that be. There was conflict with the religious leaders. There was even conflict among Jesus' very own disciples. The journey to Jerusalem was not easy. It was full of danger and hardship, but it was a journey that needed to be made so that all could experience the love and hope of the Kingdom of God.
As I reflect upon Jesus' journey to Jerusalem, I cannot help but think of another journey made during a different period of time...the journey the Freedom Riders made during the 1960s through the deep South. "After the 1960 presidential election, civil rights activists pressure the Kennedy administration to support their cause and existing laws. The Supreme Court had banned segregation in interstate travel twice, but Southern states widely ignored the rulings. In May 1961, the Congress of Racial Equality sent mixed-race groups of non-violent volunteers, known as Freedom Riders, on bus trips into Dixie. They met minor resistance in the upper South, but when they got to Alabama, trouble erupted. Segregationists firebombed a bus in Anniston, Alabama, and Klan members attacked the passengers as they disembarked in Birmingham. Attorney General Robert Kennedy tried to protect the Riders, telling Governor John Patterson he would send Federal troops if the state couldn't maintain law and order. On the next leg of the trip, from Birmingham to Montgomery, the promised state police escorts evaporated. The Riders were assaulted and bloodied when they arrived in Martin Luther King's home town. As the violence raged, Kennedy called in U.S. marshals, and ultimately Patterson was forced to dispatch the Alabama National Guard as well.
When the riders continued into Mississippi under protection, they encountered heavy police presence and no violence -- but they were arrested in Jackson and sentenced to the maximum-security Parchman Penitentiary for trespassing. CORE sent more riders to the South to keep the protest going. Over the course of the next few months, 300 riders were arrested and sentenced in Mississippi."
These words seem to describe a different time, yet as I look at our nation and see what is happening, I wonder if it is as different as I think. Our nation is divided more than ever. Protests and marches are planned. Fear and uncertainty fill our hearts and our minds. In the midst of this turmoil, I wonder what words of hope we as people of faith are called to share. Then I remember... I remember a story shared with me about the Freedom Riders and their journey.
"In Jackson, the Freedom Riders were arrested and jailed. Rider James Farmer: "The prison officials wanted us to stop singing, because they were afraid our spirit would become contagious and the other prisoners would become Freedom Riders as a result of our singing." The guards threatened to take away the mattresses -- their only luxury in a steel cell -- if they continued to sing. As Farmer recalled, one Freedom Rider called for the guards. "He said, 'Come get my mattress. I'll keep my soul.' And everybody started singing, Ain't gonna let nobody turn me round, turn me round, turn me round..." They came in and took the mattresses away and people sang as they had never sung before. We thought we were winning the battle; they were on the run."
Now, as we begin our journey through Lent, we aren't going to let anybody stop us. The purpose of our journey to Jerusalem is too important. Yes, we know the journey will be difficult and full of hardships, and yes, ultimately we know what awaits us within the city walls of Jerusalem: a table filled with the bread of new life and the cup of the new covenant, the betrayal and denial by disciples Jesus knew and trusted… the cross on which Jesus died. Yet, we know something the rest of Jerusalem doesn't know. Jesus' journey did not and does not end with the cross. It ends in rejoicing. It ends in song. It ends with an empty tomb and celebration of new life.
I invite everyone to join us on this journey to Jerusalem. As people of faith, we have a brand new world, the Kingdom of God, to build here on Earth and we aren't going to let anybody turn us around!