Rector's Blog: With Ma'Kiyah Bryant
In the first century, an unknown Christian author wrote a sermon-like letter to a group of fellow Christians who were living under persecution, injustice, and uncertainty. They were scared, and they were trying to figure out how to assimilate with the violent normal of the world around them so they wouldn’t stick out, so they wouldn’t be a target of that violence, so they would simply be able to live. The author of this letter (now called the Letter to the Hebrews) works hard at assuring them of some very basic truths of their lives as Christians: That God is real. That God is working in the world. That they are not alone. But most of all, he wants them to know that Jesus’ suffering and death was not for nothing. That it changed the world.
The author teaches that, in and through Jesus, God shares in the suffering, sorrow, and death of every human being. God is not inoculated from the pain humans experience but experiences it with us. When someone is persecuted, so is God. When someone is victimized by violence, so is God. When someone dies, God experiences their death with them. God is in utter solidarity with one who suffers.
But this is not all. Because of Jesus, God experiences our death. And also because of Jesus, we experience God’s life – which is eternal, unending, and abounding in steadfast love. This means that suffering and death are not the final story of us. Humanity is drawn up into a life that lives beyond death. Those who have died are not simply memories or ideas: They are alive with God. The author goes on to list a litany of people who preceded us in life and death. Many of them died violent, untimely deaths. All of them, the author says, are alive now with God. They are witnesses. They have witnessed the worst and best of humanity. And they have witnessed the powerful truth of God’s Love. They are witnesses of what God is doing in this world right now. And they are witnesses of how you and I are responding to God. They see us like God sees us. They see our beauty and frailty. They see our fear and belonging. They see it all.
Ma’Kiyah Bryant is part of that cloud of witnesses.
Ma’Kiyah Bryant’s life on Earth was cut short but she continues in eternal life. She stands with God. She participates with God in the reconciliation of all things. This means that Ma’Kiyah Bryant is still your sibling, and she is still your partner in the work you and God are meant to be doing. It is tempting to say that we should work for justice in honor of Ma’Kiyah Bryant or in her memory – because our culture trains us to believe that once someone has died, they primarily exist as a memory, or as a disconnected and unreachable spirit in some far-off land. But our Christian narrative says otherwise. We believe that those saints who have passed through the great ordeal of death – and particularly those who have been subject, like Jesus, to an untimely death due to the violence of this world – are right this moment alive in Christ and that we are bound to them in an eternal life that has already begun. That is to say our sister Ma’Kiyah Bryant is with us right now – not just symbolically, but in all truth, holding us accountable for our individual and corporate failings, and supporting us in our work for justice and peace.
This belief is not meant in any way shape or form to numb the grief of her death. It is not meant to minimize the gross injustice done to her body in our name. Death is real. Injustice is real. Pain and sorrow seep into our lives every day. Belief that Ma’Kiyah Bryant – a beautiful daughter of God – is alive in Christ, witnessing our continuing struggles, and partnering with God in the loving and healing of this world reminds us that Love is stronger than Death. When we work for systemic change, however futile it may feel, we are not fumbling idly at an impossible task: We are part of the tide of inevitability – because for the Christian, the victory of Love and Justice, of Mercy and Equity – these things are inevitable. They are the way God is making this world. This holy work will be accomplished.
Most of the people who make up the Church of the Redeemer are White. Our tradition, The Episcopal Church, is over 90% White. Most of us don’t know what it is like to be Black in this country. We have no idea. And the vast majority of us have no idea what persecution feels like. You can tell, because we end up thinking wearing masks during a pandemic or not being able to tell off-color jokes or not having Christian prayers in public schools is akin to persecution. We do not understand persecution firsthand. We do not understand the cloud of fear under which so many of our Black siblings live – and no amount of hypothetical or ideological politicized language will change that reality. When we listen to our Black siblings, we hear that they are hurting, tired, and scared. And when we are honest, we know that we don’t know what it’s like to be them.
But every single one of us knows loss. If you are reading this, you know loss. Pain. Suffering. Sorrow. Grief. Uncertainty. It is inextricable from the human experience. Every one of us is horrified by the thought of a loved one being gunned down in the street. Every one of us prays for the safety, health, and happiness of those in our care. Every one of us has the capacity for humility, empathy, and compassion. And every single one of us has the power to work for racial justice, healing, and reconciliation in this world right now. If every White Christian chose to listen with humility to the stories of our Black siblings, we would be filled by the Holy Spirit with an unstoppable drive to change our world. If every White Christian took seriously that we have a responsibility to dismantle and destroy racism, our country, our communities, our churches would be transformed.
God will destroy racism. Will we be God’s allies and co-conspirators? Will we stand with God?
God is not asking you to remember Ma’Kiyah Bryant. God is asking you to learn your sister’s name for the first time. Ma’Kiyah Bryant. See Ma’Kiyah Bryant for who she truly is: She is God’s beloved, utterly belonging, eternally alive in the Love that makes all things new. When you see her for who she truly is, you will be convicted to use your life here and now to bring about real, lasting change. You will have no choice but to roll up your sleeves and stand alongside God and Ma’Kiyah working to bring the justice, healing, and reconciliation for which the world is yearning.
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