Beyond Sesquicentennial and Sixth’s Sense of Memory Toward the Fierce Urgency of Now

Remembering nearly fifty-six (and a hundred plus) years ago….

“The pale history books in Harlem and Birmingham told how the nation had fought a war over slavery. Abraham Lincoln had signed a document that would come to be known as the Emancipation Proclamation. The war had been won but not a just peace. Equality had never arrived. Equality was a hundred years late.

“The boy and the girl knew more than history. They knew something about current events. … They knew that, for years, their own lawyers had won great victories in the courts which were not being translated into reality.

“They were seeing on television, hearing from the radio, reading in the newspapers that this was the one-hundredth birthday of their freedom. … But freedom had a dull ring, a mocking emptiness….”

—excerpt(s) from the Introduction in “Why We Can’t Wait”, Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863 would be followed over a century later by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.

I was reminded of this recently when, prior to my attending a noontime meeting of Presbytery’s commission on ministry subcommittee, my eldest daughter took me on a tour of downtown Fort Wayne. As one residing and working nearby there, she is an educational ministry enthusiast of culture and the arts around various sites in Allen County and surrounding areas.

Our walk across the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Bridge, less than two hours’ drive from east central Indiana, proved to be profoundly affecting for me on that mindful morning. Words of exhortation in his speech quoting scripture from the prophet Amos, and Isaiah in the Gospel of Luke were recounted as I read various memorable quotations of his along the way.

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. …and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. … I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”

May the New Year ahead bring us further to the eschatological reality envisioned upon the sovereign rule of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to the glory of God in Jesus our Messiah and Savior. And may we bear witness in Word and Spirit to new life, full of grace and truth.

Pastor Rex Espiritu

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