Sunday, Bloody Sunday by U2
Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living
Let the dead bury the dead.
I can’t believe the news today. I can’t close my eyes and make it go away. How long? How long must we sing this song. How long, O Lord? How long…?
In our reading this week Jesus told a would-be follower to let the dead bury the dead. In other words, let the past be past. Look forward. Set your face towards your own destiny. But, the other thing we read this week was a news story about Oscar Alberto Martinez who drowned in the Rio Grande River with his 23 month old daughter while trying to cross into the United States of America. Maybe you saw the picture too. Exactly how is Oscar Alberto Martinez supposed to bury himself?
At the time Jesus is reported to have said these words the bodies were starting to pile up. Soon enough Jesus’s own body would be one of them. By the time this gospel account was written even more, lots more bodies would pile up. The temple would be destroyed, Rome would crack down on dissent, empire would be on the march and the bodies would be piling up.
Everybody would have known some body who wasn’t there anymore. Maybe two people had worked together in the same field, but now there was only one. Or, maybe there were two friends who ground grain together, sharing the work. But, now one of them was gone. This was an everyday reality. If you’re old enough, and gay enough, you remember how we went to funerals in the 1980s. It was like that. Neighbours, colleagues, the guy who sold you flowers… Gone. So much, gone.
The trench is dug within our hearts and mothers, children, brothers, sisters torn apart.
The people who read this gospel would have seen the bodies, buried the bodies, and known full-well that more bodies were coming. It was unrelenting.
In the face of all these bodies, what does it mean to let the dead bury the dead? This question is more pressing and urgent than theoretical. Oscar Alberto Martinez and his daughter Angie Valeria make it urgent.
Darlyn Cristabel Cordova-Valle, age ten, from El Salvador makes it urgent.
Jakelin Caal Maquin, age 7, of Guatemala makes it urgent.
Felipe Gomez Alonzo, age 8, of Guatemala makes it urgent.
Juana do Leon Gutierrez, age 16, of Guatemala makes it urgent.
Wilmer Josue Ramirez Vasquez, age 2½, of Guatemala, makes it urgent.
Carlos Hernandez Vasquez, age 16, of Guatemala also makes it urgent.
They were once hopeful, if illegal, migrants to the United States. Now they are dead.
Their bodies strewn across a dead-end street. How long… O Lord, how long?
The United States maintains the largest immigration detention system in the world. These children died in custody, while they were our responsibility. So, the question is real. It is urgent. What about these bodies?
Hard as it is, these bodies are dead. We can not help them. But there are other bodies, living bodies. If we set our face to the future, we know that we’d better fight like hell for those bodies.
Amnesty International says that there are up to one million living bodies detained in China’s re-education facilities. Those are Muslim bodies; Uighur and Kazakhs, mainly. They were once fathers, brothers, workers, friends. Now they are gone, buried in a bureaucracy that demands conformity or death. A friend recently told me that there are hardly any men on the streets in Urumqi, a city in Xinjiang. Though they are buried they are not dead, and we can fight for them.
There are nearly a million living Rohingya bodies in camps of displaced people in and around Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Their former lives are buried in the ash and mud of their burned down homes and villages, hope buried underneath memories of unspeakable horror. They are not dead yet, and we can fight for them.
There are about 60,000 slave bodies… In the United States of America. Many, many more worldwide. They are buried in situations most of us can’t imagine. Freedom, buried underneath hopelessness. The joy and light of their lives, buried and now hidden from this world, which so desperately needs more light and more joy. But they are still living, and we can fight for them.
And the battle’s just begun. There’s many lost, but tell me who has won?
Let’s bring it home. Almost all of us live with something from the past that haunts, and maybe even defines, our present. Maybe it’s something you screwed up, or a betrayal. It could be anything that was so profound that you have carried a shadow of it along with you everywhere you go. That’s death. But you are not dead yet and you can still fight like hell for the life of freedom and light that you might have if you can turn your own face from the deaths of the past and toward the new life of the future.
Look, this is not Jesus’s most diplomatic moment. But if we can get past the words and try to mine some meaning from this passage we might see that Jesus is not interested in the past, but in pressing on to the future. He is not interested is what can’t be changed, but what can be. You don’t have to live with the memory, or the shame, or the fear of whatever happened to you, or that thing you did, or whatever it is. That is the past and it is dead. You have to leave that where it is. Set your face on the future, look to Jesus, believe in the possibility of your new life. Fight like hell for it.
Linda McMillan is a free-range monotheist currently waking to the sounds of Adhan in the desert, but longing for the gentle chirp of the birds in Texas.
Some Notes of Possible Interest
Psalm 13… How long, O Lord? How long…
Luke 17:35… Two women will be grinding grain together…