The Spirit of the Holy One is upon me; therefore, God has proclaimed good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty for captives, sight to the blind, release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from God.
This past Sunday my spouse and I walked to Riverside Church, a gorgeous cathedral-like church next to Union Seminary in New York City. We attended a celebration of word and song in remembrance of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The gospel music filled the church. Excerpts from Letters from a Birmingham Jail were read. The highlight, for me, was when Rev. Dr. Alvin Jackson stood up to preach.
Rev. Dr. Alvin Jackson started by telling the story of being a seventeen year old boy in Mississippi when he found out that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. A car of white men drove by and yelled to him out the window, “We finally got your Martin Luther Coon!” He was devastated. He thought that by killing King, they had taken away Jackson’s voice and power as well. When King spoke, Jackson heard his own dream, vision and hope being spoken. And now that voice was gone.
As an older man, Jackson has finally come to realize that Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not the voice. He was an echo of the voice. “There was Malcolm, Martin and Medgar. Before Malcolm, Martin and Medgar there was DuBois and Washington.” Jackson started to raise his voice as the list continued, the list of echoes, of voices crying out for freedom. Lincoln, Jefferson. He rocked back and forth as the list stretched further and further into our history, “Before that there was Paul and before Paul there was John the Baptist.” People started standing up and clapping. I was overcome with emotion at the growing list of our heritage made up of echoes, voices, prophets. “There was Ester, Isaiah, Samuel.” They were all echoes of the voice, the voice that proclaimed, “Let there be light,” and there was light. The same voice that looked at the women and men God created and said they were very good. “This is the voice,” Jackson reminded us, “and that voice will continue to echo throughout history until true freedom and justice arrives. They did not kill the voice. His echo will continue on. History will always bend toward justice. You can kill the dreamer, but you cannot kill the dream.”
We are the echo, too, and we are not alone. We come from a long line of prophetic echoes, speaking truth to power about real freedom, proclaiming God’s good news and vision until God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
“I hope you are a different person walking out today then when you walked in,” said Pastor Phelps in the closing remarks. “That is the sign of true worship.” Invigorated to carry on the voice, we were changed indeed. Thanks be to God.
Who in Jackson’s list of prophets have you heard of? Are there any new names?
Who would you add to the list of echoes?
Who do you see in our modern society picking up the message and continuing it after King’s death?
How are we called to be the voice in our society today?