In the Middle of an Uprising

Acts 3:12–21, Luke 24:36b–48, preached by Rev. Jane McBride on April 18, 2021

Last Monday night, my family was among those who streamed from all four directions to stand together quietly at the intersection of 63rd Avenue and Kathrene Drive in Brooklyn Center. The mood was heavy and somber. The sky was cloudy, the air held a chill. Most people were bundled up in jackets and hats and everyone wore a mask. Heads were bowed, hands clasped. We were there, at the request of Daunte Wright’s family, to remember, grieve and pray.

This is the season of Easter, Eastertide. Easter is not finished when the chocolate bunnies have been eaten and the “Easter grass” and Peeps disappear from the store. Easter is a season that lasts for fifty whole days. Standing in the street were Daunte Wright died, I found myself lingering over that first Easter morning. The story always begins with the women coming to the tomb, prepared to anoint the body of Jesus. I notice that the women experienced resurrection only when they were willing to be with death—to see death, to touch death, to smell death. In other words, resurrection is something that happens as we stand in our streets that are stained with blood, as we grieve with the grieving, and rage with the furious. Resurrection happens at the site of generational trauma, in the hopeless, airless space of despair and exhaustion where people must relive the same pain over and over again. Resurrection happens as we take in the full horror of the violence we do to each other.

This is the season of Easter and we, like the women, are at the tomb. On Tuesday night, at our board meeting, we checked in about our feelings following the murder of Daunte Wright. Some of our words were: “dismayed, devastated, horrified, and furious.” One person said they were trying to resist becoming paralyzed. Another compared the state of their mind to a bag of partially decomposed compost. Personally, I am feeling anxious and having trouble focusing.

Thank God we are in the season of Easter. Because dismantling white supremacy is a resurrection. And making sure our black neighbors get home safe is a resurrection. And holding police accountable for their use of force is a resurrection. And building a new vision of public safety is a resurrection.

At the beginning of the service, we heard the words of Rev. Dr. DeWayne Davis, Senior Minister at Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis, words that he spoke at Monday’s vigil: He said: “Easter is an uprising.” He declared, “We are in the middle of an uprising” Oh, yes, I thought, we’re in the middle of an uprising. We’re not simply repeating the same deathly tape, with no progress, no change, resistance, no hope of another outcome. Traffic stops won’t continue to turn into executions forever. Someday the police will no longer shoot people for expired tabs or kneel on their necks as punishment for using a counterfeit $20 bill. They will not gun down a thirteen-year-old-kid with his hands up. Soldiers in tanks will not patrol our streets. We will ban tear gassing protesters and families in their apartments. We will not arrest women for sitting in their bathrobes in front of their own homes. We will stop allowing officers to attack journalists and medics.

Friends, we’re in the middle of a profound transformation. Surely, this middle space, this space between death and life, is painful, frustrating, and confusing. And, at the same, it is a generative space, a space in which resurrection is possible. We are like a whole field of seeds that have been planted, that are germinating in the cold, dark soil of spring. The evidence of our uprising is still hidden beneath the surface; a sea of fragile yet powerful green shoots is about burst forth.

In today’s text from Acts, Peter preaches about the Easter uprising. Peter and John have just raised a man. He was laying in front of the temple gate, begging. He asked the apostles for money. Instead, they freed him from the system that kept him poor. They literally raised him up by the hand. Having been raised, he could now walk and work and provide for himself. Having been raised, he could enter the temple and be part of the community that praises God, whereas before, because of his disability, he had been excluded from worship. Being raised, in other words, is not only about physical healing; it is about dignity, belonging, and freedom. Peter uses the same word, egeiro, to describe Jesus’ resurrection. When God raises Jesus, it is not a mere resuscitation. Resurrection is a vindication—the rejected one belongs; his life matters; his teaching shows wisdom.  Resurrection repudiates empire. Violent oppression is not inevitable, not tolerable, not the best we can do.

Peter emphasizes the fact that the power to raise people, the power of uprising, does not originate with human beings. Life comes from God, the Creator, the God of our ancestors. And yet Peter and John play a crucial role in raising the lame man. They stretch out their hands. They speak the hopeful, healing, uplifting name of Jesus, the risen one. We human beings are stewards and conduits of divine life. “You killed the author of life,” Peter declares to the people. Life is sacred. Life is a gift from God. Taking a life, for any reason, is a desecration—whether that’s the life of Jesus or the life of Daunte Wright; whether the person claims to be the Messiah, or attempts to flee, or is wearing a hoodie or has a bag of Skittles in their hand.

Now, this whole passage has been used to accuse the Jews of killing Jesus. Let’s be careful not to read it that way. I think the point is, we’re all complicit in the ways of death. We’re all responsible for the forces that kill the author of life, that desecrate what is sacred. As the protest chant bluntly puts it, “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.”

I keep thinking about how it could have been me who shot Daunte Wright. Kim Potter apparently reached for her gun when she meant to pull out her taser. I know that if I were under stress, if I were panicking, I could make such a mistake. The thing is, she, and I, still need to be held accountable for our actions. The truth is, white supremacy triggers a fight/flight reaction when there is no actual threat. White people are socialized, in a deep and sinister way, to fear black bodies.  The mere presence of black people can cause folks to panic. White people must be accountable for our continued participation in this murderous system. White people must examine ourselves on a daily, hourly basis, looking for the ways white supremacy culture influences our judgement, shapes our bias and prompts our aggressive response.

“Repent therefore,” Peter preaches, “and turn to God.” Peter calls us to recognize that through repentance God will bring “times of refreshing” and will move us toward a project of universal restoration. Repentance means that even as we mourn and rage at the tomb, we turn intentionally and consciously turning away from the ways of death. Repentance means that as we stand in our streets full of blood, we also receive and welcome and participate in God’s power of resurrection, the uprising that God is planting among us. Repentance means raising one another up. Repentance means a life-long journey toward dignity, freedom and belonging.

Easter is an uprising. We’re in the middle of an uprising. I want to imagine this uprising in full bloom. So I will know it when I experience it, so I can move toward it with all my strength. So here goes . . . here’s my vision.

The next time a police officer shoots someone, and the community brings to the police station their grief and rage, the police will not line up, like our adversaries, in riot gear with hardened faces behind impenetrable helmets.

They will come out from behind their fences.

They will take off their armor and put down their weapons.

They will be human with the rest of us.

They will say, “We are sorry someone died.”

They will weep and wail with us, for this loss of life.

They will stand, with us, against our mutual foe of white supremacy.

And they will join us in asking, how can things be different? What needs to change in me, in this system of which I’m a part?

They will no longer remain silent when a colleague abuses their power.

They will go to the Capitol to protest with us.

They will work with our legislators.

They will help us build a system of true public safety, which is so much more than policing.

They will, at long last, fulfill their mission, to protect and serve.