How Did We Get Here?
An Easter Week Reflection
by ABCUSA General Secretary Jeff Woods
As we enter Holy Week in 2022, we invite you to read the reflection below, “How Did We Get Here?”, written by American Baptist Churches USA General Secretary Dr. C. Jeff Woods.
On Palm Sunday morning, word of the parade that was coming to town spread like wildfire among the people of the first century. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of Lord,” would be heard throughout the countryside and on the glee filled streets leading into Jerusalem. Jesus was just around the corner on his triumphant journey.
“How did we get here?” many would exclaim in unparalleled admiration of their long awaited Messiah as he rode into town on an unridden colt. The elation seemed too good to be true. It was.
The joy of Palm Sunday would be but a flicker of history.
As daylight turned to night, so would their hopes of a new earthly kingdom be unknowingly transformed. When shouts of Hosanna turned to shouts of “Crucify Him” the same street lined people would ask, “How did we get here?” How quickly the shadow of the cross would wash over their earthly optimism.
Fast forward 2,000 years. Today, many are still asking “How did we get here?”
On February 24, I participated in a call with Igor Bandura, the vice president of the All-Ukrainian Union of Associations of Evangelical Christian-Baptists. This was the day of the Russian invasion. Igor began by explaining how the protestant churches in Ukraine had prepared for three different scenarios of aggression from Russia. He would soon learn that their most extensive preparations would fall short of the massive needs of food, safety, and shelter.
As reports from the different areas of the country surfaced one by one, Igor yielded to the worst case scenario that was unfolding before his eyes and ears as he learned of bombings and attacks in each segment of his homeland. When his wife called with news of a declined card at the gas station, his own worries of safety emerged. Igor lamented how different this scenario would be from Crimea and bemoaned, “It feels like a black hole swallowing my soul.”
“How did we get here?” the people of Ukraine are asking.
In the days following the aftermath, Americans have witnessed scenes of hospitals exploding, parents and children struggling to survive, people trapped in subways, and threats of “consequences you have never seen in your entire history.” When a cold war seemed so distant just a few weeks ago and now we are recalling the doctrine of mutual assured destruction, we ask, “How did we get here?”
In November of 2020, the people of Myanmar were overjoyed with news that even more pro-democracy candidates were elected from the previous turnout five years earlier. Tragically, on February 1 of 2021, those same elected leaders were arrested and imprisoned. Shouts of joy rolled into wailings of tears and astonishment as the military once again now rules the country of Burma. One year later, the coup continues as villages are burned on a daily basis, protestors are slaughtered, and displaced persons flee to the jungles and borders.
“How did we get here?” the people of Burma and the Burma Diaspora ask.
War is not the only weapon of loss: an entire world stopping and starting, loved ones lost, “long covid” limiting countless others, suicide attempts, the great resignation, years of public instruction gone forever, bouts over safety protocols. “How did we get here?”
Prejudice and racism have their own arsenals. As African-American parents ponder when to have “the talk” with their children we ask, “When will decades of racism give way to discussions, dialogues, and policy changes that finally make a difference? Why did it take so long for the Emmett Till Antilynching Act to pass?” As we awake daily to new incidents of hate crimes we ask, “How did we get here?”
As storms, fires, hurricanes and floods eclipse new records every year and amass destruction of homes and families, we ask “How did we get here?”
Every day people on the street have nowhere to lay their head at night, nowhere to engage in meaningful work, and no place to sit down for a meal. We ask, “How did we get here?”
As Christians we not only ask, “How did we get here,” but also, “Where will we go?” and “Who will we become?” That answer lies in our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ whose Palm Sunday journey offers grace and peace to all.
“Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them” (Psalm 32:6).
“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
As American Baptists we have a responsibility to learn, to advocate, and to act against the evils and injustices of this world. We serve as the hands and feet of Christ and as American Baptists, we are United in Christ and Together in Mission.
Many congregations will experience in-person worship on Resurrection Sunday. Overjoyed to be together, this past week I participated in the Prairie Pastors Conference where pastors shared their dreams and hopes with one another as well as their cares and concerns for the evils of this world.
As American Baptists we never serve alone. We stand on the shoulders of American Baptists like George Lisle, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Yosh Nakagawa, and Martin Luther King Jr. We walk arm in arm with one another. We call out with a shared voice. One day we will also soar. Our collective Hallelujah must always lead to communal encouragement.
Someday, when the people of Myanmar experience a peaceful existence, when old patterns of privilege giving way toward new pathways of equality, when all of God’s gifts are celebrated within the body of Christ, when every American Baptist weeps when another weeps and rejoices when another rejoices, we may ask, “How did we get here?” and it will be through the power and love of Jesus Christ.
Dr. C. Jeff Woods
American Baptist Churches USA