Anti-Racism Is Not Optional
There’s a prayer you may have heard of (it’s also a hymn) called St Patrick’s Breastplate. It uses the imagery of someone preparing for battle, and putting on the defensive armour of God – not weaponry, but a shielding and protection through calling on the name and works of God the Holy Trinity. The hymn begins, “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity,” and then it lists God’s works of creation; Christ’s life, death and resurrection; the wisdom, guidance and protection of God’s Spirit. All of these, we as Christians bind unto ourselves.
It’s a strong, empowering prayer, and I’ve been reminded of it this week as I’ve reflected on today’s readings for Trinity Sunday in light of the massive protests against racism in many cities in the US and across the globe. How are we as Christians to live, and what gifts and power from God do we need to bind onto ourselves in order to go forward as followers of Jesus?
The two readings today are short, and they’re both farewells.
In the first one St Paul is signing off his long second letter to the Christians in Corinth. It was a tough letter addressing some serious and divisive issues in that young church, and Paul now ends on a loving, encouraging note:
· agree with one another
· live in peace
· the God of love and peace will be with you
· greet each other with a holy kiss
And finally he concludes with words we know so well:
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
In the gospel reading it’s Matthew’s account of Jesus’ last appearance and final words to his disciples. Where Paul’s words have a tenderness to them, Jesus speaks about authority, obedience, commandments. There’s a certain rigour here, a toughness. The disciples are being given a serious task to do in making disciples of others and baptizing them. There’s a path to follow that will be demanding and hard.
But his parting words are a promise:
“Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What does it mean to be a Christian?
It means being part of a community that has pledged itself to follow Christ’s way.
It means binding to ourselves the protection and presence of God.
It means taking up a huge challenge if we’re really serious about obeying Jesus’ commandments to love God and neighbour, because it’s going to be costly; it’s going to involve sacrifice and self-giving; it’s going to ask everything of us.
This week, since the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis, thousands and thousands of people of all skin colours have taken to the streets to protest the violence and injustice of racism. The vast majority have done so peacefully, many taking part in protests for the very first time. For some it’s been an eye-opening experience of seeing the reality and evil of racism in our midst with clarity. For others it’s one more step along a long, long path they’ve been on for years, of protest and action and advocacy for human rights and racial justice.
This isn’t just political, it’s moral, it’s spiritual and it’s deeply Christian. So when Donald Trump walked from the White House to stand outside St John’s Episcopal Church, holding a Bible up, after having ordered peaceful protesters cleared away with pepper spray, and after having spoken of calling in the National Guard to shoot protesters, it was an outrage to members of that church, to its priest, to its bishop, and to Christians and people of faith around the world.
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the US, Michael Curry, an African-American, issued a statement that read in part:
The Bible teaches us that God is love. Jesus of Nazareth taught, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” The prophet Micah taught that the Lord requires us to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.”
The Bible the President held up and the church that he stood in front of represent the values of love, of justice, of compassion, and of a way to heal our hurts.
Archbishop Linda Nicholls, our own Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, issued a much longer statement, including recounting how she had had to come to terms with her own unconscious racism, and urging all of us to educate ourselves, open our hearts and minds, and listen to the voices that have been silenced and rejected for so long.
This is not optional work. It is at the core of our baptismal covenant to love neighbour as self and to respect the dignity of every human being. It demands our attention as a church and as a society. When we persistently ignore the cries of those who are denied dignity and equality, we cannot be surprised by the resulting anger and frustration finally finding an outlet in the violence now seen. We must always stand for peace, but only if we also stand for action and a willingness to listen to those disenfranchised and powerless who cry out for justice.
We baptize people in the name of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And that binds us to God’s creative love, Jesus’ grace and salvation, and the Spirit’s reconciling communion. And we all affirm, each time we are in the congregation at a baptism, that we will indeed renounce the evil powers of this world – powers such as racism – and turn again and again to following the way of Jesus, loving our neighbour as ourself, striving for justice and peace, and respecting the dignity of every human being.
This Trinitarian God is the one who is beyond us, beside us and within us.
This is the God who is Father, Mother and so much more, Creator of all things and all people – none to be privileged over another; none to be exploited or denigrated by another.
This is the God revealed in Jesus who walks with us, calls us friends, and yes, calls us to turn around and repent of all that harms the image of God in us and in others.
This is the God whose Holy Spirit groans within us, labouring to bring forth the kin-dom of heaven for all, here on earth.
When we bind unto ourselves this holy Trinity we are both empowered and challenged: empowered to share the ministry and mission of Jesus in our world today, and challenged to do the hard work of that. And as Archbishop Linda says, “This is not optional work.”
We are called to listen, to learn, to seek peace through justice, to take meaningful action for change. That might mean reading and discussing a book, listening to a speaker, or joining in a protest. It will certainly mean feeling uncomfortable or inadequate to the task at times. But this is not optional work for Christians.
So let us bind to ourselves today the strong name of the Trinity.
Let us commit ourselves again to the hard and holy path of following Jesus.
And let us know and trust that he is with us always, to the end of the age.