04 April 2008

40th anniversary of MLK death

Forty years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was fatally shot on his balcony at the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee, bringing to a close his labors for equal civil rights for all Americans.

I'm sure that, as with many great leaders, Dr. King was an earthen vessel, with his own share of flaws, both personal and public. Yet, his tireless labors and effective rhetorical gifts were instrumental in improving the lives of so many and in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Thus, Dr. King has won our admiration not only as a remarkable individual, but also as a symbol of the aspirations and hopes of many. His legacy serves to remind us of deplorable aspects of our own history as a nation, how far we have come to correct some of those wrongs, and yet how far we have still to go as we continue in these labors, particularly as Christians called to make known the kingdom of God.

The night before his assassination, Dr. King spoke these words to a crowd gathered at Mason Temple:
And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. And I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Powerful words, embodying an awareness, I think, of the dangers he faced for his stand against injustice and of his trust in God's purposes in the midst of it all, purposes that would extend beyond his own labors even to our own time.

In it's Lesser Feasts and Fasts book, the Episcopal church provides the following prayer for this day:
Almighty God,
by the hand of Moses your servant
you led your people out of slavery,
and made them free at last;
Grant that your church,
following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King,
may resist oppression in the name of your love,
and may secure for all your children
the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.