Easter & Empire

April 3, 2021

Speaker: Phillip Baber

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On Good Friday Pastor Phillip Baber joined six other faith leaders in an online event in which they were each asked to reflect on one of the seven statements that Jesus made as he hung on the cross through the lens of the ongoing struggle against White Supremacy. Pastor Phillip shares the statement he made here along with a special Easter message.

In June of last year, I had the honor of joining interfaith leaders from across the city at a press conference on the steps of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. We were there responding to the recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. We were there to declare not only that Black Lives Matter, but that Black Lives are Sacred.

At the end of the press conference, and led by a local Black pastor, the Reverend Reginald Gundy, we were all invited to kneel down and observe an extended moment of silence—a moment that lasted exactly 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time that Officer Derek Chauvin had his knee on the neck of George Floyd. And during that 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Pastor Gundy, joined by other Black clergy, spontaneously cried out the last recorded words of George Floyd:

“My neck hurts.”

“I need some water.”

“Momma! Momma! I’m through.”

It was when I heard that last cry for his mother that it struck me: George Floyd had been crucified by the state. All that was missing, was the cross.

On the cross, we encounter Jesus at his most human. We know, at the precipice of death, grown men may instinctually call to the one who brought them into this world… who protected them when they were most fragile and most vulnerable… who cared for them with both tenderness and fierceness.

At the end of his life, when he is helpless to resist death, a frightened and powerless man turns to his mother. Like Jesus, in his final moments on earth George Floyd turned to his mother, even though she had already died two years before him.

Mothers know that every life is a unique miracle from God that can never be replaced. George Floyd’s life was a miracle. And that miracle—that gift from God—was destroyed by the state over a $20 bill.

Every Black American deserves the assurance that they, their children, and their children’s children will have the opportunity to live on this land in peace, without fear, free from the shadow of the Empire.

But this cannot happen so long as police operate with impunity. This cannot happen so long as police do not have to answer directly to the citizens they have sworn to serve and protect. This cannot happen so long as billions of dollars every year are plundered from neighborhoods and given to police departments so they can purchase military-grade weapons and occupy Black and Brown neighborhoods. As a nation, we spend over $100 billion every year so that—every year—we can watch cell phone footage of police murdering yet another Black individual over a $20 bill, or a pack of cigarettes, or a box of CDs, or a traffic citation.

Why?

Why does this keep happening?

Because it is illegal to be Black in America. In America, being Black is potentially a capital offense. And the only thing stopping any Black American from being summarily executed in the street is “the discretion” of unchecked police officers. If you think I’m exaggerating, ask yourself this question: Why are there no viral videos of police officers killing Wall Street financiers who have regularly stolen millions upon millions of dollars from innocent people?

The institution of American policing is simply doing what it was designed to do back when it was created in the American South hundreds of years ago. And for that reason, George Floyd now rests with his mother.

I’m a natural pessimist, so Good Friday tends to appeal to me a bit more than Easter Sunday. But that’s precisely the reason why I need Easter: to remind me that there is always hope.

I need that hope, because when I look at the world today, and particularly America, I see the evils wrought by white supremacy and unfettered capitalism. We are—and have been—living through a crisis that few care to acknowledge: a crisis of state-sanctioned violence against people who are powerless to defend themselves.

Police still occupy Black communities. As a nation, we continue to enforce a cruel, inhumane, and racist immigration policy that separates children from parents. We continue to financially support wars against brown-skinned people in distant lands. Our posture towards China continues to feed growing anti-Asian sentiment that has resulted in ever-increasing violence against Asian-Americans. Domestically, 70,000 Americans still die every year because they do not have access to adequate healthcare. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are homeless. Millions more are in danger of losing their homes or don’t know where their next meal is coming from. All this while our two political parties squabble over the size of the crumbs they will toss to the American people.

The Empire casts a long shadow. So it’s easy to despair. Especially when so many of us have been enculturated to believe two distinct-but-clearly-related fallacies: 1) The world is as it has always been. And 2) the world cannot change.

Those are the lies that crush hope.

But. History repeatedly bears witness to the dynamism of our world. See, the real truth is: Nothing ever stays the same. And a single spark can ignite a revolutionary change. It has happened time and time again.

And it can happen yet again.

Easter is, among many other things, the story of a spark of hope, ignited in darkness and despair of death, that—against all odds and in just a few short years—lit the world on the fire. And we celebrate Easter because sometimes we have to look back in order to see what lies ahead.

So.

Happy Easter.

Christ is risen.