Passion week. Jesus’ passion. Us. His passion for us took him to the cross. His passion for us got him beaten. His passion for us gave him the ability to endure crucifixion. His passion for us sustained him for 3 days as he passed through hell. His passion for us exploded in joy at his resurrection.
So, what is our passion? What is my passion? Injustices inflame me. Inconsistencies annoy me. Hiding behind the Bible with feigned compassion could lead me to hurt someone. What is worthy to me that I would submit willingly to beatings and even hell itself? In Isaiah 53:4, the prophetic words describing Jesus resound with the question, “Am I willing to have godly people consider me stricken by God for the ones He calls me to protect, honor and fellowship?” Tough question.
My family, especially my mom’s side, left me a legacy of fighting for civil rights. My great-grandmother housed and tutored a black man, I only know as “Willie”, so that he could make a better way for himself in the world. In East Texas. She and her husband allowed him to live in their basement and do some odd jobs as payment. Gomama (my mother’s mother) only said that Willie had some problems. I don’t know if there was some mental illness or learning disability; but in East Texas, at the turn of the 20th century, my great-grandmother stood up for something not right in her society. Gomama lost her teaching job in a segregated Texas town in the 1940s because, after school, she would teach literacy to black children of the town. She helped many of them get into college or tech schools in the hopes of creating a better life for them. She never received a paycheck for teaching again. My great-great-grandfather founded a college in Texas to ensure that his daughters could be educated in the 1800s when a woman’s role consisted of wife and mother. Godaddy (my mother’s father) paid into Social Security for all their domestics so that they would have some sort of ‘retirement pay.’ The other white folk of the town criticized him because it was up to the blacks to figure out their lives beyond the service the whites provided. My father sent money every month to Elizabeth (the housekeeper/cook/nanny to my mother and her brother when they were growing up) once my grandparents passed away. Civil Rights is in my blood and I have fasted, prayed and agonized over how I can build on that legacy.
Then the answer came a few years ago. I wanted something that felt noble. I doubt that Gomama felt noble when she was fired by the superintendent or ostracized by many of the women in the town. Her nobility comes from her posterity who ‘rise up and call her blessed.’ I wanted to bask in the glow of my nobility. Gomama never got the chance to bask in her glow. She never saw the fruit of her actions as a crown of beauty–she only received a crown of thorns. Those of us who came after her saw how many hearts healed because of her wounds. She died wondering why God had forsaken her in the nursing home. Those of us at her funeral rejoiced in the resurrection life we believe she experiences to this day.
Gomama and all the others in my family who fought hard for human dignity, civil and spiritual rights and paid a great price for their battles, teach me that God takes man’s crown of thorns and the mocking voices and changes all into beautiful crown jewels and cheering voices of the cloud of witnesses who show us the way to holiness, to Paradise–even if it doesn’t feel victorious in our lifetime.
I remember all this–where I come from, what I live for and all that I hope to become–as I remember the One who remembered where he came from and where he was going and knelt beside his disciples to wash their feet–even Judas’ feet. As with my cloud of witnesses, I may never experience the feeling of nobility as I follow the path Jesus walks before me; but I can experience communion with him regardless of what others may think of me. May Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday usher in God’s presence to our hearts and give us humility to serve the ones we consider stricken by God and the least of our world.