Valerie preached on Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” today, a fine centerpiece for the first Sunday of Black History Month—especially in 2021, when we are so desperate for change, large and small. Cooke himself, not only as a Black man in the mid-twentieth century but as a father grieving the death of a young son, knew profoundly that need for change.
And yet today’s Ancient Testimony was John 1:1-5: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. I associate John 1:5 with the beginning of the Christmas Eve liturgy in my ELCA church, and I often forget completely that the verse is not from the Christmas story at all. John also writes in the past tense for the first four verses, and then switches to the present continuous: The light shines, the darkness has not overcome it. The passage speaks of the constant—not merely constant, in fact, but eternal, beyond grammatical tense perhaps, outside time at all.
The blur of the edges of time is one motif of the pandemic, and the recurrence of the indignities committed against people of color since the beginning of American time is another. We enter this particular Black History Month staring down the statistics that can only mirror others in a society built on the backs of Black, indigenous, and immigrant labor. I was yesterday years old when I learned about the Wilmington Massacre of 1898, in which white supremacists violently overthrew a duly elected multiracial government.
And I learned about it in an ongoing quest not merely to educate myself more thoroughly about Black history, but to stave off the boredom and cabin fever of a long cold pandemic week bookended by substantial snowstorms. From where I stand—which is to say, forever in my kitchen, chopping onions with podcasts playing in the background—time is a long stretch indoors learning just how much worse things can get, how much worse things have already been.
And yet. My daughter is eight months old now, feeding herself and babbling, crawling when she isn’t trying to stand and walk. She eats meals and takes naps and sleeps at night; the days, repetitive though they may be, are at least broken up into recognizable chunks. Vaccines are here with more on the way. It’s still light out when I start to plate dinner at 5:30.
Change is gonna come, future perfect. The pandemic Zooms will give way to celebrations we recognize again: Christmas, Black History Month. I will celebrate my daughter’s first birthday by surrounding her with as many people who love her as we can fit. The vaccine will save lives. The fight for Black lives will persist.
Valerie asked us to sing “I’m So Glad” to end the service, and I am. Change is gonna come. The light shines in the darkness.