I lost fear in the black belt when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and Resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God. – Jonathan Daniels
Jonathan Daniels was a white seminarian who felt called to help Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with civil rights work in the Deep South. Shortly before his martyrdom, he penned the words above. In his work, he had stared down violent threats and intimidation. His freedom in Christ helped him love with great abandon. Indeed, he loved unto death.
On Friday, August 20, 1965, he was heading to a general store in Hayneville, Alabama to get drinks with three friends. A local man, Tom Coleman, met them as they approached. He threatened them and leveled his gun at seventeen-year-old Ruby Sales who was African American. Daniels pushed Sales down to the ground and caught the full blast of the discharge. He died a martyr living out Jesus’ teaching, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Martin Luther King, Jr. said Jonathan Daniel’s martyrdom was “one of the most heroic deeds of which I have heard in my entire ministry and career for civil rights.”
We might never be called to martyrdom, but we are called to love with abandon like Jonathan Daniels and so many of our Christian brothers and sisters before us. Ordinary people in so many ways, many of the greatest saints were quite fallible. Yet, they experienced the love of Christ in a way that changed them. They came to understand resurrection was not just an event only involving Christ in the distant past or one far in the future at the end of time. We can live a resurrected life starting now when we trust Jesus with our lives. It is that trust that frees us from sin, death, and the Devil. It frees us to love in miraculous ways, whether the world recognizes it or not.
I pray that as we approach another Easter, we don’t seek Christ in any old, dusty tomb. Let us seek him in our hearts and the relationships God leads us into. Find him in his holy word, studying it alone or with others. Encounter a foretaste of the feast to come in corporate worship at church or in the home. Serve the Risen Christ in the one’s he has entrusted to your care, perhaps even those whom you resent or whom are your enemies.
Yes, Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed! It is amidst our ordinary life and among our average neighbors that we will find him and begin to experience the new life he promises. He has gone ahead of us, waiting for us in our future. Do not be afraid. Rejoice, for “there you will see him,” much as the disciples were told in Matthew 28:7.
Christ’s peace to you, and happy Easter!
The above pastoral letter was originally published in Messiah Lutheran Church and School’s newsletter, The Messenger (March 2013 edition). To view the entire issue of The Messenger or to see the full calendar of events, visit: http://www.mlcas.org
Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations for this article are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation.
© 2013 The Rev. Louis Florio. All content not held under another’s copyright may not be used without permission of the author.