I was in fifth grade when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. It was a terrible year – King and Bobby Kennedy were murdered, and there was sustained rioting in many cities, including Washington, D.C., where we lived. 1967’s Summer of Love had given way to 1968’s summer of hate and anger. For many years afterwards, when I heard Dr. King mentioned, my first thoughts were of the despair and violence that followed his death, rather than of the peace and equality he sought to gain for us all.
In retrospect, and in maturity, my first thoughts of King are now of regret, wondering what more he might have been able to accomplish had he lived. Current events put the progress we have made in brotherhood and equality since his death to a harsh test: How much progress have we actually made in those nearly fifty years? How can we best press forward?
Dr. King would tell us, as he told us and showed us in his life, that the answer begins with love. A love rooted in the love of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. A love dedicated to God and to one another. When we look at each other in that love, we truly see each other as individuals. We see that each of us is a discrete miracle of creation. We see all that we have in common, rather than focusing on our differences and using those differences as an excuse to turn away from or, worse, turn against each other.
That love then requires action. As Dr. King said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” We must speak for each other. Pray for each other. Stand up for each other. In Christ, we are one people. His people.
As we celebrate Dr. King this weekend, let us not only applaud his great work and incredible sacrifice. Let us consider the ways in which we can continue his work and honor his legacy, as a man of peace, and as a brother in Christ.
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Martin Luther King, Jr., Christmas 1957