Today is the 8th and final day of Pesach, in many Diaspora communities. It is also Easter in most Christian communities. And it is April 4, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s most profound speech in 1967 and of his death in 1968 -- a sacred date to an increasing number of Americans. This last date in past and present will be honored tonight at 7 pm Eastern time by the reading of Dr. King's greatest speech, "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" by a group of national truth-tellers. We will explain this third date – today – in more detail close to the end of this Shalom Report.
Both the final day of Passover and the final day of Holy Week could be described as calling forth an ecstatic vision, affirming and transcending the highest notions of political freedom and justice.
The Prophetic reading for the last day of Passover is a passage from Isaiah, including the ecstatic vision of Chapter 8:
But a shoot shall grow out of the stump of Jesse, A twig shall sprout from his stock.
The ruach [spirit /breath /wind] of YHWH [the Breath of Life] shall alight upon him:
A ruach of wisdom and insight, A ruach of counsel and valor,
A ruach of devotion and reverence for YHWH [the Breath of Life].
He shall sense the truth by his reverence for YHWH [the Breath of Life]:
He shall not judge only by what his eyes see, Nor decide only by what his ears hear.
For he shall judge the poor with equity And decide with justice for the lowly of the land.
He shall strike down a land with the rod of his mouth
And slay the wicked with the breath of his lips.
Justice shall be the belt around his loins, And faithfulness the belt around his waist.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, The leopard lie down with the kid;
The calf, the beast of prey, and the fatling together, With a small child leading them.
The cow and the bear shall graze, Their young shall lie down together;
And the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw.
A babe shall play Over a viper’s hole, And an infant pass his hand Over an adder’s den.
In all of My sacred mount Nothing vile or evil shall be done;
For the land shall be filled with deep knowing of YHWH [the Breath of Life]
As water covers the sea.
Here even what seems like violence – striking a land, killing the wicked – is done by speech, by persuasion. By nonviolence. And then the ecstatic vision takes off entirely: in even the order of nature, of God’s more-than-human Creation, violence shall end.
For Easter, we begin with the Holy Week of nonviolent resistance to Rome. Just a few days before Pesach, a protest march from the Mount of Olives into the midst of Jerusalem, scattering palm branches -- a sign of spring and new life, as a modern protest might wave placards of defiance. Singing songs of joy, psalms well-known to the people. Climaxing with a challenge to the official system supported by the Empire:
And Jesus went into the Temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the Temple, and overthrew the tables of the money changers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said to them, ”It is written, “My house shall be called the house of prayer.’ But you have made it a den of thieves.”
The week proceeds with a Pesach Seder where the band of resisters plan the next steps. It is infiltrated by a paid hireling of the Empire’s secret police, who betrays then to the police. Rabbi Jesus is arrested, subjected to a “perp walk” through the city, and crucified -- tortured to death.
And three days later, the urge for freedom surges into an ecstatic vision: the despised prisoner who dared to resist the Empire is restored to life. The normal order of nature is reversed. And the political order is transformed as well: the crucified rabbi becomes a transcendent hero and the God of the Empire that killed him.
In Jewish tradition, ten great rabbis tortured and killed by Rome are remembered by chanting their story on the holiest day of Jewish reverence, Yom Kippur. The nearest the story comes to an ecstatic reversal of the natural order is not the resurrection of any of the ten rabbis but their “immortalization” through memory and one element of Rabbi Akiba’s death. Akiba is sad to have smiled while being tortured, turning his torture and death into a midrash on the meaning of the Sh’ma.
Half a century ago, the nonviolent spiritual leader Martin Luther King, who resisted governmental injustice -- racism and war -- was murdered on the first anniversary of his speech “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence.” In it he prophetically warned the deadly “triplets” haunting America – militarism, racism, and materialism – would ruin America if they were left to fester. Perhaps he used the word “triplets” instead of “trio” to point out they share the same DNA -- the impulse to dominate and subjugate. We have watched other forms of the same DNA – sexism, hatred of foreigners, religious bigotry, contempt for the processs of democratic elections and workers’ rights and the free press, contempt for and poisoning of our mothering Earth – bring death and despair to many Americans.
Dr. King’s ecstatic vision did not call for tha transformation of the natural world. It focused on the transformation of human society:
“Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores and thereby speed the day when "every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.
"A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
"This call for a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men.
"Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.
"We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation."
Dr. King has been immortalized in many ways – a national holy day in his name, the creation of the Freedom Seder and its being first held on April 4 -- the first anniversary of his death—and in many instances for the last half century on a date very close. For the 50th anniversary, on April 7, 2019, a Freedom Seder held in a Philadelphia Mosque, the Freedom Seder built to a climax with the Prophetic speech of Reverend William Barber II, who drew on Jeremiah to call for a march to the “royal palace” -- the White House -- of our own corrupt and murderous king.
And now there has arisen a new way of calling out the Prophet Martin’s truth.This very evening, a band of national leaders will take turns reading his speech about the deadly triplets. Here is how you can join in the moment:
Click NOW to KINGANDBREAKSILENCE.ORG.
The Shalom Center is a co-sponsor of the reading.
With blessings of freedom and eco/ social justice, Arthur