(Bishop David Graves for the Montgomery Advertiser) - On April 26th the National Memorial for Peace and Justice opened to the public here in Montgomery, AL. The memorial consists of 805 engraved columns, a county-by-county listing of the names and dates of death of the victims of racially motivated lynchings in the United States. There have been over 4,400 names recorded and research continues with more to be memorialized. These are not just names, but real people who suffered at the hands of white antagonists. When I read of the atrocities inflicted on black people, and those who stood beside their black brothers and sisters, I can only read so much, put it down, and then later return to the heartbreaking stories. For me, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice moves, and perhaps forces us, to remember these acts of hate and violence.
The memorial recognizes the thousands who died at the hands of mobs that lynched with impunity as local government looked away, or worse, participated. It hurts my heart to recognize that many white church-going people, including some Methodists, participated in these evil acts. Can’t we work to try and forget all of this ever happened? It makes me feel better to not talk or have to write about the sins of the past.
Yet, I have learned that remembering our past is crucially important in hoping that we will not repeat such acts. It is why we remember each year the 40 days, excluding Sundays, leading up to Easter where we recall the last days of Jesus’ life.
For many we want to jump from Christmas to Easter and not walk the last days of Jesus where he was rejected, arrested, tried, whipped, and then crucified. It was one of the worst ways to die. It was ugly. Why remember all that bad? It is in the remembering that we truly sense that God so loved us that He sent Jesus in the world to die, not for his sin, but ours. Every year, we celebrate Easter, but we remember all that Jesus lived into for each of us. Jesus died for all of us and as it relates here, Jesus died for those who were lynched and those who did the lynching. This kind of love is hard to understand, but it is in the remembering that we are reminded of God’s amazing grace.
In Luke’s Gospel, chapter 23, verse 34, Jesus shares these words as he is hanging on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” NLT The people in Jesus’ day had never been to this place before. Oh, they knew death by crucifixion as the Roman government did this every day. Yet, they had forgotten the words of Jesus recorded in Mark chapter 1 verse 15, “The time promised by God has come at last! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” NLT
Remember! The new memorial here in Montgomery reminds us that we never want to revisit such hatred again. Moreover, there is still much work to do in race relations and reconciliation. There are many who are living in bondage and slavery to sin. The Good News is that the empty cross gives us all hope for today and the remembrance is that
the through Jesus the best is yet to come.