Teresa of Avila, a 16th century Spanish mystic wrote:
Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
To me, these words embody our Baptismal Covenant – that we are to be Christ to the world. That’s one huge responsibility, indeed!
Fifty years ago this week, one young man took these words to heart. Jonathan Daniels, a student at Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Mass., answered the call of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for students and clergy to join the civil rights movement advocating voting rights for all. In March 1965, Daniels traveled to Selma, Ala, to participate in the march from Selma to the state capital, Montgomery, expecting to be away from school only for the weekend. As providence would have it, he and a classmate missed the bus ride home so, having been moved by his experience in the South, Daniels requested to stay in Selma for the rest of the semester where he could work for civil rights while he studied on his own. He returned to Cambridge to take his exams at the end of the semester but traveled back to Selma in July to continue his work there. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act on August 2, 1965, giving African-Americans the right to vote.
On August 14, Jonathan Daniels left Selma for Fort Deposit with a group of 29 students to picket the all-white stores in that town. All the protesters were arrested and spent the next six days in jail in the nearby town of Hayneville, refusing release unless all could be released. Finally, on August 20, the group was freed but they had no transportation to return to Fort Deposit. While one member of the group went to call to arrange a ride, Daniels and two of the African-American female protesters went to buy a cold drink at a nearby store. Barring the doorway was Tom Coleman, an unpaid special deputy, who was holding a shotgun. Coleman leveled the gun at 17 year-old Ruby Sales but Jonathan Daniels pushed Ruby out of the way and took the full blast of the gun himself. He was killed instantly.
This week, nearly 1,500 Episcopalians from across the country walked the path that Daniels and his fellow civil rights marchers walked 50 years ago. They stopped at the jailhouse where the young people were housed and prayed together, taking some time to also read articles and letters about Daniels. The pilgrims continued on to the same courthouse where Tom Coleman was found innocent on manslaughter by the all-white jury. Once inside, the group celebrated Holy Eucharist.
“We are not here because we think good thoughts, or simply because we are nice people, although we are. We are here because we who have been baptized – we’re not simply baptized into church membership – we were consecrated to radical discipleship, into the Jesus Movement to change this world. The same movement that called Jonathan, and Mary, Queen Esther, Moses, Abraham and Sarah and Hagar, the same movement that moved the world into being,” preached Presiding Bishop-elect Michael Curry to the crowds gathered inside and those watching on large TV screens in tents on the courthouse lawn.
Anyone listening to or reading current news knows that the goal of the civil rights movement is far from accomplished. “Justice and dignity for all” is still our mission as God’s people. Many of our resolutions from General Convention address some of these concerns and over the next few years, I’ll be bringing these to you so that you and your congregation can join in the work to see us live out the Five Marks of Mission:
The Mission of the Church Is the Mission of Christ
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
I think the timing is crucial. We are in an election cycle where we hear candidates espouse platforms that directly affect the way certain groups of individuals in our country will be treated. We need to make our decisions based on our call to mission and not on sound bites and personality. Let us all be informed and conscientious about the work before us. And let us look to the selfless example of Jonathan Daniels who lived and died the truth of Teresa of Avila’s words: “Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good….Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
You can read the full article about the pilgrimage on the Episcopal News Service website here – http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2015/08/18/jonathan-daniels-pilgrimage-remembers-the-past-looks-to-future/
Let us pray…
O God of justice and compassion, you put down the proud and mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and the afflicted: We give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
~ Judith Schellhammer, chair, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council