Sermon – April 4, 2015
The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, CSW
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Corbin, KY
The Great Vigil of Easter Bulletin 4-4-2015 (Easter Vigil)
Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! Zeph. 3:14
Forty-Seven years ago at 7:05 our time, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, TN. I always remember this date and if it weren’t for Easter Week, the Episcopal Church would remember Dr. King as a saint on this day…the day of his death.
For some reason I really can’t explain, I have always remembered this date. I was too young to have remembered many of Dr. King’s speeches and I was only 7 when the March on Washington occurred, but much of my adult life, I have been on a kind of pilgrimage to the places important in Dr. King’s life and work – his birthplace and grave in Atlanta; the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis; his church in Montgomery; the Birmingham jail.
So when I lived in New York City and heard about a play by Katori Hall, who grew up in Memphis, about the last night of Dr. King’s life, I had to go. Especially since Samuel Jackson and Angela Bassett were the performers in this 2-person play. The play is called The Mountaintop and takes place in Dr. King’s room at the Lorraine Hotel after Dr. King had given his last speech at a church in Memphis.
A woman, who he thinks is the hotel maid, comes to his room that night. Much of the play is the back and forth of their conversation. We learn much about the facts of Dr. King’s life, but also get some idea of the interior of this life. But there is a surprise and I’m spoiling the play for you now. The maid is really an angel sent from God to take Dr. King home to heaven!
Eventually the maid, Camae, discloses who she is and that Dr. King will die the next evening. Like most of us, the playwright has Dr. King begging to live just a little longer… to see his children again…to hold his wife again…to finish his work. Dr. King gets Camae to call God, who is a woman, so he can plead for more time. God hangs up on Dr. King.
Watching this part of the play, I nearly started to sob, because I realized what the character of Dr. King was saying, were my words and pleas to God too. Why didn’t you let Dr. King live longer, God? Why didn’t you protect him? I felt that as a young child of 11 ½ on the night he died and I had carried that sadness and upset with me all of my life….
Well, tonight we begin our service in darkness. You see, we left the church last night with Jesus securely in the tomb…horribly tortured and dead. Buried in a tomb, hurriedly before the Sabbath. Most of us know that silence of death, don’t we? The person we love, our companion, our dearest friend no longer speaks to us…is no longer there to touch us or laugh with us or chide us. That awful silence of the absence. That’s where we are. That’s where I was on that April 4, 1968, and for so many years after.
Yet, our lessons tonight are all about God’s saving grace. Even when Jesus is silent…even when Jesus is in the tomb…even when there is so little light…even when there is so much grief…we are told to hope! We are told that what is happening right now in this moment is not the last word!
Last night we sang some verses of a hymn, At the foot of the cross. The verse for tonight is:
When it was finished, Jesus was laid in a tomb wrapped in grave clothes of death.
Three long night after, he left the grave clothes.
She did not help him. She did not carry him home.
Our grief…our clinging to life can blind us to the fact that God is God and is still working. That we don’t know what the end will be. Jesus rises from the tomb regardless of what his beloved mother could or could not do about his death.
In The Mountaintop, Dr. King finally says he can face his death, if he is allowed to see the future. Scenes begin flashing rapidly on the stage. All of the years since 1968… event after event after event, good and bad. Faster and faster they come. Each event is named and throughout there is a mantra “the baton passes.” Watching all of those events, I was finally at peace with Dr. King’s death.
The baton passes…God is still at work…God continues to save us…And Jesus Christ left his grave clothes.