A Sermon preached in the diocese of the Virgin Islands, by Fr. Ron Barnes
Jesus is black
It was Sunday morning, in an Episcopal Church in the middle of the island of St Croix, one of the US Virgin Islands. I had arrived the day before, to teach FirstClass (a superb communication system) to the priests, secretaries, and anyone else who wanted to know, in the church parish hall. The Class had gone well, lots of enthusiasm, and hopefully, a group of new happy users. Following the class, I wandered around the nave of the church, and was delightfully surprised at what I found.
The nave was large and airy, with large windows, open wide to the fresh air and warm breezes of the beautiful Caribbean. The altar was well forward, nicely decorated, and obviously important. There were seats for over 300 people in the nave, and more in the choir etc. But what I quickly noticed was the large paintings set against the forward wall. They had been beautifully painted by a local artist and were well done. Around the walls of the church were large Stations of the Cross, painted by the same local artist. They were quite wonderful.
The next morning, I was supposed to assist at the 6:30 AM Eucharist, to read the Gospel and (I discovered quickly) to Preach. The early service was the best attended of the day, the church packed with men and women, well over 300 people. And everyone was black. Even the priest was black. I was the only white person in the church that morning. The only one.
Everyone was well dressed too, the women in beautiful dresses, and men in open necked shirts. It was an impressive congregation. (There were also Eucharists at 9am and 11am, but none so well attended as at the 6:30 am time, since the weather could get pretty hot later in the morning.)
After reading the Gospel, I stepped to the centre of the church, and standing in front of the Altar, began to preach. I told them:
" I was teaching in the parish hall the previous afternoon, and after the class, had spent some time looking around their lovely church. And my attention had been caught by the large paintings on either side of the Altar."
"On the left hand side", I said, "was the almost life sized painting of Jesus the Good Shepherd. As usual, Jesus held a little lamb in his arms --- a lovely picture --- but then I noticed --- that Jesus was black." And a slight titter came from the congregation
"When I turned to the large size picture on the right hand side of the sanctuary, I noticed it pictured Jesus with children from all parts of the world. And again, I noticed that --- Jesus was black." Another even louder titter came from the people.
"Around the church walls are the Stations of the Cross. Now I really love the Stations of the Cross, the 14 pictures of the Crucifixion of Jesus, starting with His condemnation by Pontius Pilate to His Crucifixion to His Burial in the Tomb. There are many Devotional Services that accompany these pictures, and these services are often done with groups of people during Lent. I know, I have led the Stations many times in the years of my priesthood. But again", I said, "I noticed that in every picture --- Jesus was black; --- and Mary His Mother was black; --- and St John was black; --- and St Mary Magdalene was black; --- even the soldiers were black; And," I asked, "isn't there anyone in these pictures who is white?"
"And then, I found him --- (light brown hair and pinky white skin) --- Pontius Pilate."
And the congregation roared with laughter. When the laughter died down, I continued:
"The artist who wonderfully painted these pictures, knew something that many others have not yet discovered. When God decided to enter our world to save us, He did not come to be WITH us --- He came to BECOME US. The Son of God took flesh, the scriptures say, and in saying that, the scriptures are trying to tell us that Jesus became like us in every degree, except for sin. He became our Brother, not our cousin or some good example --- He became LIKE us --- so that from that moment, everyone would know that Jesus was as human as us, like us in every way imaginable. And that means that for those who are black, Jesus is black. And for those who are asian, Jesus is asian. And for those of us who are brown, Jesus is brown. He really became us --- so that He could redeem each of us by His death on the Cross --- just as we are."
"Even at this present moment, Jesus stands before the Altar of God in Heaven, offering the Perfect Sacrifice of Himself to the Father for our salvation. And He stands there, not only as our Representative, but as US --- black, red, brown, yellow, white. Jesus has become LIKE us, so that He could REDEEM us. He is my Brother, and your Brother; my Saviour and your Saviour; my Redeemer and your Redeemer. Think of this ---when the Father sees Jesus, He sees YOU."
"And that makes me your Brother. It makes you my sisters and brothers. We belong to each other, because we belong to Jesus. And the painter of those lovely Stations of the Cross around your church is telling you that wonderful truth in the most powerful way possible."
"Being here in your church, I have learned today that Jesus is black. Of all the things that God wanted to teach me today, that is the most important. I'm glad that you already knew it, because now I know it too."
In the Name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
I told this story (the first part of the Sermon above) at a coffee hour at a church in British Columbia, several years after it happened. I had been an honourary assistant priest at that church. One of the parishioners heard the story, and complained to the rector, and the Bishop removed my Licence to assist.
I would appreciate hearing from anyone who, after reading the above sermon, can share any concerns you might have with me about this sermon. Please send your note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know where I went wrong. Ron+
That is a fine homily and witty to boot! I'm glad to have had the opportunity to read it. Pax, Michael+
soldiers were black;