When I hear the phrase “Seven Last Words”, I smile. I have fond memories of sitting in church to hear a pastor (actually, seven pastors) engage in a sermon series that draws upon Jesus’ seven last statements before he died. It is a Holy Week tradition in which seven preachers participate in a preaching relay race of sorts. I say that, not intending to trivialize this tradition, but to highlight the aesthetic of the event. It is an event that invokes a myriad of emotions and thoughts. This is not your standard church service.
A few weeks ago, I saw the phrase “seven last words” pop up on my Facebook newsfeed. “It’s only October”, I thought to myself. “Why are we talking about Holy Week in October?”
And then I was amazed.
This Friday, October 24 at 6:30 p.m., The Center of Black Church Studies at Princeton Theological Seminary, along with several noted co-sponsors, will host a Seven Last Words series. It will be hosted at Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, and the event will be live streamed. Yes, in October. But this event does not intend to raise the last words of Jesus. Instead (or perhaps, in addition), these seven preachers and activists will raise the seven last words of Black women and men killed by police, security, or vigilantes. Wow. Now that’ll preach.
The very organization of such a series raises several feelings for me, many of which I cannot name. I am relieved that my pain will be understood and made legitimate from the pulpit, especially since religious leaders so often make headlines by cosigning oppression. I am frustrated that this event exists, and I wish we didn’t have to mourn life. I am grateful to be in a space where theory and practice converge in sermons. I am affirmed in my Blackness and am reminded of the Blackness of the Jesus I imagine. I am reminded of the many parallels between the Jesus story and of the story of Black American experience. Black Americans, like Jesus, are seen as outsiders. We are misunderstood, both by peers and by authority figures. We are considered to be an enemy of the state and a threat to the Empire. And yet, as much as I wish these seven words represented only seven deaths, I know better. I am scared for the Eighth Word, though I know it will come.
I look forward to this series. I will be keeping up with the twitter discussion and live stream. And I thank, in advance, the people who are doing the work to raise the slaughter of Black people as an issue of sin.