The Royal Wedding homiletic bombshell from our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, sparked a tremendous increase in exposure for The Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. That exposure provided the perfect set up for a previously planned event in our nation’s capital – The Reclaiming Jesus service, procession, and vigil.
The organizers wrote: “In this moment of political, moral, and theological crisis in America we are deeply concerned about the resurgence of white nationalism, racism, and xenophobia; misogyny; attacks on immigrants, refugees, and the poor; the regular purveying of falsehoods and consistent lying by the nation’s highest leaders; and moves toward autocratic political leadership and authoritarian rule. We invite you to join us for a service of prayer and gospel proclamation, followed by a procession to the White House and a silent prayerful candlelight vigil as a witness that the church will not be complicit, but faithful.”
The evening began with the service at the National City Church, part of the Disciples of Christ, located in the heart of the city at Thomas Circle. The church has had strong ties to the political establishment since 1851. I got there early and claimed a seat in “The President’s Pew,” where President Lyndon Johnson would sit.
Crowds began to flood the nave, with journalists scrambling for interviews with Bishop Curry and other faith leaders. The gospel choir of Howard University got the crowd going, and then the speakers began the gospel proclamations – each speaking to one of the tenets outlined in the Reclaiming Jesus foundational confession which arose from a Lenten retreat of some of the biggest names in the Jesus Movement, including: The Rev. Jim Wallis, the Rev. Dr. Walter Brueggemann, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, Fr. Richard Rohr, Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, and of course, our own Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry.
I felt a bit like a person standing outside a Broadway stage door as I eagerly took photos of these legends of the faith. The excitement in the room was palpable all evening, but when Bishop Curry walked into the pulpit, everyone jumped to their feet – clapping and shouting – it rocked the house. I was never so proud to be a part of what he calls The Episcopal Branch of the Jesus Movement.
There were so many memorable moments in the service, it would be impossible to cover them all, but here are a few of those prophetic words. The Rev. Jim Wallis, said “We know how to make our light shine... we see people bringing politics into faith. Tonight, we are bringing faith into politics.”
The Rev. Dr. Walter Bruggeman added “The way of Jesus is the way of truth. His way of truth concerns generous restorative justice for the oppressed... The 9th commandment at Mount Sinai is ‘you shall not bear false witness,’ but Moses really said ‘you shall not invent fake worlds for your own convenience... Fake worlds make common life impossible....”
In this #MeToo era, the Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins made it clear that women were the primary witnesses in the story of Jesus. She added “In Christ, equal work receives equal pay.” She received the loudest applause outside of our own bishop, yet, I was struck by the continued bombardment throughout the evening of all male language for God. It was particularly striking to hear that all people are one in Christ, all are beloved children of God and women should be treated equally, and then hear “Father... God, He loves us, He….” It seems the church is unable to see the connection between our theological language and the sexism that persists in the nation, the world, and the church. So much more work for the church to do, to be sure.
Perhaps the most striking part of the confession, read by Bishop Carroll A. Baltimore, was this. “The most well-known verse in the New Testament starts with “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16). We, in turn, should love and serve the world and all its inhabitants, rather than seek first narrow, nationalistic prerogatives. Therefore, we reject “America first” as a theological heresy for followers of Christ.”
After more inspiring words by the Rev. Dr. James Forbes and a benediction by Fr. Richard Rohr, we were on our feet singing with the gospel choir “Oh, Happy Day!” As Rev. Wallis said, “Well, I don’t know about you, but it feels like Pentecost!”
It was a Pentecost moment! We were so filled with the Spirit of God’s love, and we took that message out into the streets, and to the very seat of power in our country – the White House. We brought our light – the light of Christ burning inside of us and symbolized with candles – out into the streets to proclaim that God’s love is more powerful than hate, the light of Christ is more powerful than darkness, and there is nothing that can ever extinguish the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit.
Something happened to me in the procession that I will carry with me for a long time. As I as walking near the front of the procession, I began to notice one young man, as we kept trying to move amidst the sea of people. He said his name was Carlos, and we joked about trying to keep up, and not get lost in the shuffle. At one point, I was concerned that he had been pulled back into the swarm, and then I felt his hand on my shoulder, and a voice say “I am still with you.” I looked back and he had this warm, broad, smile on his face. For reasons I cannot begin to unpack just yet, Carlos and I were bonded in that time and space, as we kept checking in with one another on our way toward the White House. Then, as the crowd pushed along a bit faster the closer we got up against the sidewalk next to the White House fence, I lost him. I turned to find him, called out his name, but he was gone. The TV cameras were shining, the elders were beginning their proclamation, but I kept looking for Carlos. I never found him, and it saddened me a bit.
Yet, there we all were, standing a few yards from the White House, and the elders began to walk in a slow circle as they read the full confession of faith. When they were done, they led us in prayer. This was the most powerful part of the night. I was standing shoulder to shoulder, thousands holding candles praying for our nation, all in different ways, sometimes different languages. There we were – over a thousand of us - putting words of love and hope into the universe – asking God to bless us, guide us and our nation’s leaders, to give us all the grace and strength to live as Christ called us to live. And then we were silent. All of us, under the camera lights, holding our candles, standing yards from the seat of power – standing in silent prayer.
As we walked back to the church, the journalists continued to buzz around Bishop Curry, and in his final words I heard him speak again about the transforming power of love. He was naming what was really the core of all that had happened to us that night. This was a transforming moment of love, arising out of a desire to be the Jesus people we are called to be.
The Reclaiming Jesus movement says “It is time to be followers of Jesus before anything else – nationality, political party, race, ethnicity, gender, geography – our identity in Christ precedes every other identity. We pray that our nation will see Jesus’ words in us. ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:35).”
The May 24 Reclaiming Jesus march is a start, but it is only a start. If we do nothing afterward, the night will have no meaning. That is why we need to continue this in our own churches, communities, and lives as we reclaim Jesus together. For more information, and resources to use, visit reclaimingjesus.org. There you can also find video and news reports with more footage of the service, procession, and vigil.
Let us not let these words, or this march, be the last our world hears from us. Let us commit ourselves to relationship with God, with one another, with ourselves. Let us restore right relationship in our hearts, in our neighborhoods, in our nation, and in all of God’s earth. Let us reclaim Jesus in word and deed – by the power of the Holy Spirit, and by the grace of God.