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Remembering Trayvon and Jesus

Every day I’m reminded of human brokenness, particularly those whose bodies have been broken by hatred and violence. That’s because on my Duke Chapel office desk, sitting side-by-side, is a physical memorial: a communion cup and plate to remember Jesus Christ, and next to them a can of Arizona iced tea and a packet of Skittles to remember Trayvon Martin. When I look at these elements, I hear a faint cry, “Remember.” 

It might be easy to forget that Trayvon Martin was killed in Sanford, Florida, ten years ago this month on February 26. That tragic act of violence against his young, 17-year-old Black body haunts me, and hits close to home because although he was visiting his father in Sanford when he was killed, he lived with his mother in Miami Gardens, Florida, which is where I grew up. I remember Trayvon because I never want to forget where I came from. I also remember him in order to learn from the past so as to have the wisdom to seek a better future.

But even as I remember broken Black bodies like Trayvon’s and so many others, as a Christian, I remember the broken body of Jesus too. He was put to death by civic and religious powers. His life, too, ended violently. Harlem Renaissance poet James Weldon Johnson wrote: 

Jesus, my lamb-like Jesus,
Shivering as the nails go through his hands…
Jesus, my darling Jesus,
Groaning as the blood came spurting from his wound.
Oh, look how they done my Jesus.

Just before his death during his last supper with his disciples, Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” as he’s breaking bread with them. For the Christian church, this is why we serve communion, or the Eucharist, in services. Yet there’s something more here about memory. That statement—“Do this in remembrance of me”—suggests that remembering should lead to action. Do this. Do something. 

Do what exactly? Remember rightly.

To remember rightly first means that as I gaze upon these elements— Arizona iced tea and skittles or a communion cup and plate—I remember all of those who are viewed as non-human rubbish that can be killed or be treated as wretched waste. I remember all of those unjustly murdered in the world and acknowledge the ways I may be implicit in death-dealing systems and structures, even without knowing it. And, I remember they, too, have human blood flowing through their veins, no matter their status in society.

Second, to remember rightly is to also believe that remembering can be a practice to re-member the human community. To re-member is the opposite of dismembering; it is to put some broken things back together again. When I remember Trayvon and Jesus, I re-member the world God desires, which is one of real communion. I “do” work for this divine desire as I work for the wholeness, the re-membering, of all broken people and ultimately for the entire world.

Third, to remember rightly means to see these symbols on my desk as a call to nonviolence and love. Violence led to their deaths, but the way of love honors their lives. We love because it is the only power to drive out hate and it is stronger than death, stronger than crucifixions and guns.

The physical memorial on my desk calls me to remember love and to re-member through love, no matter how hard it is to “do this” these days. What better way to remember Trayvon and Jesus than to love because true love conquers death.

The Rev. Dr. Luke A. Powery is the Dean of Duke University Chapel. 

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