Princeton, New Jersey — All around the world this weekend, Christians are celebrating Easter. For them, this holiest of days announces that death does not have the final word and that eternal life awaits those who would just believe.
Sunday also marks the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death. Forty-two years ago, an assassin’s bullet took his life as he struggled to secure the promises of American democracy for the children of slaves. His sacrifice, along with countless others, helped usher in a new chapter in American life — one that prepared the way for the election of our nation’s first African-American president.
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Every now and again, the convergence of significant historical moments occasions a time for serious reflection. How might we think about the significance of the resurrection of Jesus and the martyrdom of Martin Luther King, Jr. to the lives we currently live as Americans? What lessons does Easter hold for us? And what does remembering King’s death teach us?
On April 27, 1957, Dr. King delivered an Easter sermon titled, “Questions that Easter Answers.” For him, Easter settled the mystery of death and secured for us the importance of living a life in light of those forces that go beyond our physical experience. We are not simply biological processes. Instead, King argued, Easter cries out to us about the importance of the unseen and of the personality, those “spiritual forces that are eternal and not merely these material things that we look about and see.”
We matter. Our hopes and aspirations, our joys and triumphs matter. Not because of something we have actually done, but rather, because of an inheritance borne on a cross on Calvary. King understood Easter’s answer to the significance of human action in the world. “There is a faith, there is love, there is hope, there is something beyond the external that will stand through the ages.”
This view holds off the notion that life has no meaning or is doomed to end in shipwreck. The fact that so many have lost their jobs, their homes, their dreams in these difficult times confirms for us that life carries with it a ‘Good Friday’ experience — that darkness and disappointment can be constant companions.