Last Sunday, we sang: "Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, Felt in the days when hope unborn had died; Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet Come to the place for which our fathers sighed? We have come over a way that with tears has been watered; We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered. Out of the gloomy past, til now we stand at last Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast."
The words of James Weldon Johnson still echo; but their power is in their vision. In the midst of the time when black soldiers who had tasted the basic dignity given them in France but denied them in the land of their birth were being lynched in record numbers, Johnson still saw that progress had been made. The path was hard, painful, and marked by the blood of those who had died walking it-- but Johnson directs our eyes not to the path, nor to the cost, but to the destination, "where the white gleam of our bright star is cast."
There is a bright star-- the brightest star in the sky-- that is still guiding us, even through the stormy night of these days of dissension, decline, and depression. We all want to be like the children in Johnson's hymn, coming to the place for which those who went before us sighed. But as I look, I think we are the generation that has sighing to do-- longing for a new and different church, a changed culture and world.
I sigh for Christ in the center of us-- Christ in our hearts and minds, where all those of us who have watched human love fail and die love one another as brothers and sisters from the heart, not with human sympathy, empathy or compassion, but with the love of Christ Himself. I sigh for a day when I will greet everyone who acknowledges Christ's claim on them as family, even if we do not worship the same, we do not look the same.
I sigh for a day when this culture will look at those who follow Jesus Christ and say, "see how they love each other!" I sigh for a day when every man, woman, and child who encounters the Church will experience a radical love, a clear eye, an open hand, a living sacrifice. I sigh for a day when we will argue our disagreements and dissensions on our knees before the cross, with hands and hearts open to God and therefore open to one another.
If my life's blood is only useful for being poured out to mark the path that others behind me will tread, so be it. I want my children's feet to come to the place for which I sigh. The journey will be long and hard-- and its hardness is already pretty well impressed upon me.
I've only ever seen one Broadway show-- but it is my favorite. At the end of Les Miserables, all those who have sacrificed their lives for something, Someone greater than themselves sing behind the veil, and it lifts, and they sing to the audience: "Who will join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me? Somewhere beyond the barricade is there a world you long to see?"
Can we not put Christ so in the center of our lives that we can join in His work-- that we can see the place for which we sigh? Is it not enough to spend a lifetime struggling, suffering, sacrificing to move one step closer? Who will walk that path with me?