February 13, 2020 by Jesse Lebus
St. Luke’s, friends and family:
Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today marks the annual feast of blessed Absalom Jones. Jones was a freed slave who died on this date in 1818. He was also the first African-American to be ordained as a priest in the Episcopal Church. It seems counter-intuitive that Jones, whose previous owner was a devout Episcopalian and vestryman, joined and ministered in the very church of his enslavers.
Jones’ choice, however, was not rooted in experience, wisdom or deep thought (though he was rich in all these virtues); the nature of this choice was born of God’s grace. As Phillip Spivey, a parishioner at the Church of the Transfiguration, wrote a couple of years ago:
"Absalom Jones is the cornerstone of conscience in the American Episcopal Church. A cornerstone of conscience laid a generation before the transatlantic Trade in African People was banned here, and three generations before the abolition of slavery, six generations before the American Labor and the Women’s Suffrage Movements; almost two centuries before women were ordained in our Church; 250 years before Holy Orders and the sacrament of marriage were granted to our LGBTQ members. Even as this arc of justice has unfolded ---and we must celebrate that---lest we forget: The struggle for the just inclusion of people from all communities continues in our Church and will for years to come.”
We have made great strides in regards to justice, much of which has been the result of prayerful, faithful people acting according to the tenants of their Christian faith. But the memory of persons like Absalom Jones remind us that there is still a lot of work to be done. The lives of countless people around the world, who are still living on the edge, also remind us that there is a lot of work to be done. Our faith equips us with the tools (hope, fearlessness) to address the issues of racism (and other unfortunate “isms”) as it exists in our world, in our communities and in ourselves.
May the Lord reveal in all of us the love and freedom that we are granted as children of God.
Your brother in Christ,