“A verdict has been reached in the Derek Chauvin murder trial”—and with this announcement made late in the day on Tuesday, Apr. 20, many of us throughout the United States, Canada, and elsewhere held our collective breath as we waited to hear what that verdict would be.
For many people, the pending verdict raised questions. Would the reality of George Floyd, as a fellow human being made in God’s image, be affirmed– or would our ailing society once again fail to acknowledge the basic humanity of another Black life?
For the past few weeks, the media shifted their attention from the COVID-19 pandemic to this other sort of virus. Racism is very real in our broken world, and the Derek Chauvin trial has pushed it back into the limelight.
For people who have not been following this story, Derek Chauvin is a former Minneapolis police officer who was charged with murdering George Floyd by kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes during an arrest last May.
Some refuse to believe that race had anything to do with this tragic death. For many others, George Floyd was yet another name on a long list of Black men and women who were murdered at the hands of others, including police officers. As a result, the Chauvin trial came to be seen almost as a litmus test to determine whether justice would be served in this case.
As we now know, Chauvin was found guilty on all counts: second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter.
And with this announcement came a ray of hope that perhaps we, as a society, could collectively stand together on the same side of this issue. Perhaps we could agree with the findings of the jury that, in this case, Chauvin attempted to use the power of the system to try to deny life and liberty to a fellow human being—and perhaps we can collectively say no, there is a better way, the way of "shalom."
Living in a fallen world, we must acknowledge that this was not an isolated incident. For many Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), events such as the death of George Floyd are a reminder of the many overt and subtle acts of discrimination they face daily. A trial such as Chauvin’s, in which the actions of the victim are scrutinized and judged, seems to unfairly shift the blame for all these other acts on the victims as well. It retraumatizes countless people who have previously been hurt.
While we as Christians should be pleased with the way in which this jury's conclusions honor and respect the lives of the BIPOC community, we also recognize that this verdict represents only a tiny shred of justice. True shalom would have resulted in George Floyd not losing his life at the hands of an officer of the law.
That’s why today, as we hear and react to the verdict, we would like to call on all of the members of the Christian Reformed Church in North America to join in a time of prayer:
I leave you with these thoughts from our contemporary testimony, Our World Belongs to God:
"Together, male and female, single and married, young and old--
every hue and variety of humanity— we are called to represent God, for the Lord God made us all. Life is God’s gift to us, and we are called to foster the well-being of all the living" (art. 11)
"We are confident that the light that shines in the present darkness will fill the earth when Christ appears. Come Lord Jesus, our world belongs to you.” (art. 6)
—Colin P. Watson, Sr.
Christian Reformed Church in North America
Scripture Reading: Psalm 22
The Psalms have been faithful companions during this past year, favorites among them are Psalm 42, “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God...”, 121, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?”, and 130, “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” A reflection of the human condition, these songs offer words of praise, joy, gratitude, lament, anger, doubt, and sorrow. Psalm 22 has been my most recent companion as I was asked to preach on it for Good Friday. As I meditated on the Psalm, some insights came to mind, and I share them with you.
First, Jesus, utters the words of the first verse from the cross. In his humanity, in his pain -like the psalmist- feeling the abandonment and loneliness of the cross, Jesus cries to God, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” These words shared from a place of deep sadness and despair might be familiar to us. We have experienced or are experiencing similar sentiments, and versions of these famous words are being pronounced, again and again, in different languages and from distinct voices these days. I sat with these words reflecting on how relevant they are; a look at the news or even outside our own front doors would suffice to see their relevance. In the midst of a pandemic, of social injustice and inequity, of misuse of power and mistreatment, of divisiveness and unkindness, how can these words not be echoes of a suffering world? Jesus, having experienced the cross, accompanies us in the places of sadness and despair where we find ourselves and where we find our most vulnerable siblings.
Second, back to the psalm, even in the midst of despair, the psalmist finds signs of hope. The following verses alternate between cries of despair and remembrance of God’s deliverance, and by the time we reach verse 24, the discourse begins to shift. “For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.” From lament, to trust, to hope, to praise... Although the psalmist felt abandoned by God at some point, God didn’t leave him. This realization brought forth the last insight: How exactly did God deliver him?
The answer to this question is not in psalm directly, yet one could infer some kind of miracle was involved, supernatural or otherwise. It could have been a miracle in the form of literal salvation from a dangerous situation or a divine illumination, a coincidence that became an opportunity, a random visit that inspired acts of justice and kindness, or even intervention by a person, like you and me, who was then an instrument of God for deliverance and the miracle someone desperately needed. Sometimes we are so focused defining deliverance in the individual, spiritual sense only, that we forget its collective, yet also very spiritual, day-to-day meaning and implications that demand a response from us in the here and now.
I invite you to sit with the words of Psalm 22 and reflect on the “how” of God’s deliverance. Consider the part we all play in God’s salvific plan in this world, as God’s coworkers (1 Cor. 3:9). Jesus, our Savior and teacher is risen. He is our miracle. Following in his steps, may we become a miracle for others, and when we hear the world crying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in any version or language, may we respond confidently and humbly, “My sibling, I’m here. God has not forsaken you. God has sent me.”
—Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, M.Ed.
Educator and Elder
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Vilmarie is a teacher and a Presbyterian ruling elder born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. She has served the PC(USA) at many levels including the session, presbytery, synod, and other church groups, such as Presbyterian Women. Most recently, Vilmarie served as Co-Moderator of the 223rd General Assembly (2018-2020). She has dedicated most of her adult life to education and training, primarily teaching English to high-school students and adults from all over the world. Vilmarie lives in Florida with her husband, the Rev. José Manuel Capella-Pratts.
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you!" Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” and with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit." –John 20:19&21
How do we experience the joy that we believe comes with the Resurrection when our world is suffering in a pandemic?
In Guyana, since our first COVID case, we battled with the global health pandemic, an ‘elections pandemic’, where we witnessed an election that lasted for approximately five months. We were plunged into another ‘pandemic,’ related to a crisis in our church which has caused pain and brokenness in our Church. As the COVID pandemic is still detrimental to the world, we struggle to bring about justice and restoration of order, unity, and healing in our Church.
During the times of facing persecution, social, economic, health struggles, and possible death could drive fear in us, and we could feel like the disciples who were locked away in fear behind closed doors. Fear can cause us to terminate our path of conversion and commitment. Covered beneath our spiritual apathy and lack of zeal are not so much our personal flaws or our lack of human virtue as blindness to the dynamic power of the Crucified and Risen Lord.
We can leave our self-made prisons only by opening our hearts to a faith in Christ that is COMPLETE: complete trust, in spite of the confusion of the present and uncertainty of the future. A complete hope, by breaking away from having to see the ideal in ourselves before we will act, and complete divine confidence in casting aside the sins of others and our personal failures that keep us fixed in a narrow-minded vision of life. Christ comes through sealed doors in this Easter season to ask us to unlock them with a real experience of the Risen Lord in the power of the Spirit.
After being really excited about the fulfilment of a great expectation of having the Messiah on Palm Sunday, everything seemed to be falling apart. All of the people’s hopes, dreams, and expectations that were embodied in Jesus seemed to come crashing down. There was nothing but grief, sadness, lostness, pain, suffering, and fear.
People certainly feel deeply vulnerable in a time when their hopes and certainties are crushed, but in resurrection Jesus overcomes death, and in so doing offers us new life: A new norm. This new norm is not a return to the victorious hopes of Palm Sunday. The crucifixion had shown us the reality of pain and suffering and the lengths that God will go to help us to find God’s love.
The new norm that was reflected in the resurrection was different. Christ breathes afresh on us to receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and send us to proclaim the gospel amid pain, suffering, and loss, to experience and live out the Resurrection joy even amid the ‘pandemics of over lives.’
It was a revelation that the might of God is revealed in vulnerability and suffering love. The new norm was that people recognized their inter-connectivity and wider call to live under the wing of God, who is love: to care for the sick; to live life with and for others; to seek after wisdom, gentleness, peace, love, and joy; to overcome the old gods of greed, individualism, and false idols; to live together as one Body. The new norm of course includes pain and suffering, but not without hope.
The COVID crisis is not a good thing. It is horrible, painful, fearful. We have to name it as such. Nevertheless, if perfect love does drive out fear and if Jesus truly is risen, then perhaps the new norm that will emerge when the virus is defeated will help lead us to a place where we can see life more clearly, live with complete HOPE in our Risen Lord and love God and one another more fully.
—Rev. Gaitri Singh -Henry
Guyana Presbyterian Church
Rev. Gaitri Henry was a delegate representing the Guyana Presbyterian Church at CAANAC’s General Assembly in Guyana in 2018. She is a wife and mother of three lovely children. She is an Educator and the Minister at the Burns’ Memorial Presbyterian Church, Guyana.
Against the background of the recent spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths in Jamaica, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, in a press conference held February 28, announced to a beleaguered nation a raft of restrictions, including the limiting of the size of gatherings to a maximum of ten persons in places of worship, while other members of the congregation were to be confined only to online participation in these gatherings. These measures were to become effective March 1.
Two days afterwards, the country was shocked by news of the arrest of a pastor for violating these very regulations. Instead of engaging in online services, as stipulated, there were approximately fifty persons gathered in the sanctuary, none of whom, it is said, were wearing masks, or observing social distancing. This pastor, in the presence of the congregation that had only just been warned by both the police and health authorities on the need to observe the regulations, is on record as having chided her congregation, telling them that God told her no man can touch her because she is the apple of God’s eye and that most of them should stay home because they were not ready to serve God. She also told her congregation that she has no intention of facilitating online services. Evidently, this pastor sees herself, not just as being above the law, but also as being above the reach of COVID-19.
Unfortunately, instances like this are not uncommon. Such defiance of the rule of law among members of the Christian Church seems to have its roots in the misguided belief that those who profess faith in God are somehow immune to sickness and disease! Many well-meaning Christians, for instance, take passages such as Psalm 91 as offering an iron-clad guarantee that they will always be protected from harm, no matter what! Yet we continue to see the mounting statistics of people who are dying daily from COVID-19. Interestingly, many of them are committed Christians!
Revd. Daniel Hans, in his book, God on the Witness Stand, speaks of having once surveyed members of his congregation regarding their disappointments with God; times when God didn’t deliver on the things they were hoping he would. Members shared their experiences of times they had prayed for a newborn baby struggling for life, only to see that child eventually die. They spoke of times they had hoped God would step in and safeguard his people against physical harm, only to receive news of an old woman who was stabbed as she made her way to church; of times when they had interceded for drought-stricken African countries, only to see famine conditions continue to unrelentingly batter the already parched lands. Alongside these situations of disappointment Hans now places his own – he had hoped God would allow his three-year-old daughter to survive her battle with cancer, but instead he and his wife had to face the excruciating ordeal no parent ever wants to face – that of watching their innocent toddler suffer and die.
Revd. Hans points out that life is made up of unavoidable disappointments, and that if we take the time to read the Scriptures carefully, we’ll notice that together with amazing stories of people’s miraculous encounters with God, are many stories about people who cried out to God in utter desperation, while God seemed to remain silent and inactive. Hans suggests that when we remember only the spectacular feats done by God, we run the risk of becoming disillusioned, expecting that God will do something which he may have no intention of doing. While we can, and should, take all necessary steps to avoid harmful situations, our ability to safeguard ourselves from the dangers listed in Psalm 91, for example, is nonetheless extremely limited. The fundamental affirmation of Psalm 91 is that we don’t have to be fearful, not because we have been granted immunity from the perils of life, but because of God’s assurance that, no matter what, we will never be forsaken by God!
—Revd Norman O. Francis
Associate Warden and Lecturer
United Theological College of the West Indies
Norman has been an ordained minister of the United Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands for the past two decades. He is married to Karen and has two adult sons.