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Saturday, January 28, 2023

The Beatitudes in the Rise of White Supremacy

I want to start with the word 'Blessed'.

Those of us who consider ourselves Christian and still attend church - either in the actual building or on some internet platform - are going to hear that word a lot tomorrow.

We will hear Jesus apply the word blessed to people and situations that, in any age and time, would not be considered 'blessed' much less 'sanctioned' by God.

And, preachers all around Western Christendom will try to help us understand what Jesus meant. And, some of it will actually make some sense. Some of it will actually be comforting.

Parts of it will provide a few moments of relief from the atrocities of what's happening in Ukraine and Memphis, or Palestine and the Southern Border, or the 'plague that lays waste at noonday' in hospital Emergency Departments and Pediatric Wards and Extended Care Facilities (AKA Nursing Homes) with the Tripple Threat of COVID, Influenza and RSV.

One sermon I heard, oh, it must be more than 30 years ago, has come back to visit me this week, especially these past few days. Martin Smith, Episcopal priest, author, retreat leader, and former member and Abbott of SSJE, wrote and delivered it.

As I recall, he said that most of the words in the English language have come to us from the Gregorian monks - the religious order that surrounded themselves with the teachings and spirituality of St. Gregory.

Gregory was a bishop of Rome after the city's fall in 476. He is the patron saint of musicians and teachers. It was said that when he dictated homilies to his assistant, a dove could be seen speaking from his mouth.

Gregory favored preaching on the Jacob cycles and did so often. Apparently, his favorite story was the one of Jacob wrestling with the angel (Genesis 32:22–32), which ends with Jacob walking away with a limp and a new name: Israel.

Here's that passage:

<<25 When the man (angel) saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”>>

Gregory said that the moment when the angel touched Jacob's hip was a kairos moment, a God-incident, when the past and the future fold into the present and the blood sacrifices of the past come together with the blood sacrifice of the future on the cross and Jacob, was "bloodded".

Jacob, he said, was "bloodded with the blood of the cross."

When the monks transcribed Gregory's sermon, the "d' looked to future eyes like an 's'. Thus, 'bloodded' became 'blessed'.

If you look up the etymology of the word "bless" in the OED, you will find one of the definitions as "to mark with blood for sacrifice" (In my version, Second Edition, Volume II, " B.B.C - Chalypsography," this can be found on page 281).

"To mark with blood for sacrifice".

This, for me, moves us away from the temptation to pick the low-hanging sermonic fruit and choose the translation of "blessed" as "happy". As in, "happy are they who mourn, for they will be comforted."

Which has never made a lick of sense to me, except in some super-saccharine, Monty Pythonesque "always look on the bright side of life," kind of Christianity.

Blessed as bloodded.

To mark with blood for sacrifice.

Blessed as entering into that point of human suffering when one is "beside oneself" with grief or hunger or wanting or persecution or pain - and we enter into a kairos moment, God's time, the time of the sacrifice of Jesus, who was a part of and one with God - who suffered in every way a human can suffer - on the cross.

And, in that suffering, in that kairos moment when time becomes past, future and present, we are "bloodded" - marked with blood for sacrifice - and we are changed and transformed and will never again be the same.

And, like Jacob, we are "bloodded" and we limp away with a new understanding of who we are.

I think we have entered such moments with the brutal murder of George Floyd and other innocent black men and women like Dante Wright, Philandro Castile, Botham Jean, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Janisha Fonville, Tanisha Anderson, and many, many, many others.

We have entered yet another kairos moment with the beyond brutal, sickeningly savage, inhuman death of Tyre Nichols who was beaten to death by five Memphis police officers who held him down and repeatedly struck him with their fists, boots, and batons as he screamed for his mother who was only three houses away.

Bloodded are those who are persecuted.
Bloodded is his mother who morns.
Bloodded are the meek.
Bloodded are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Blessed - to mark with blood for sacrifice.

The thing about this kind of blessing or beatitude is that the sacrifice is not senseless; rather, it has deep, spiritual meaning.

Sacrifice is a vehicle of transformation.

We are already seeing this transformation in the way Tyre Nichols murder was handled. The transparency on the part of elected officials. The immediate firing of the five officers. The immediate charges of murder were brought against the five men who beat Mr. Nichols to death. The quick release of the video of the beating.

Imagine it: The very people who are persecuted by White Supremacy - those who are bloodded - are changing the way in which we deal with these horrific injustices.

Imagine it: The very people who hunger and thirst for righteousness - those who are bloodded - are teaching us that White Supremacy is an equal-opportunity disease, its toxins can poison people of any color.

Imagine it: The very people who mourn - those who are bloodded - are teaching us that there is life after death, that a person's life not only has meaning but their death can provide a legacy that can bring about real change for justice.

As I sit and begin to process the images of violence of not only Tyre Nicholas but Paul Pelosi as well as this time of extreme political violence and social and cultural turmoil, I find myself reflecting on what Jesus said in his first sermon with new eyes.

We are being marked with blood for sacrifice.

We always have. We always will.

That's not the question.

The question is how will we allow our sacrifice to be a vehicle of transformation - of our souls and our lives; individually, as a people, a nation and the world?

Bloodded are you who are persecuted, who are meek, who mourn, who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for you will become vehicles of transformation and change.

Know their names:

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