Most American holidays look back: a day denotes a happening, or, a date marks a birthday or beginning. Though today – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day – was chosen because of proximity to his b’day (January 15), the focus of the day is far more forward than past.
Dr. King’s most historic manifesto was his address to 250,000 people assembled in front of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963. That message – given the title, “I Have a Dream” from the closing refrain – has been ranked the most important American speech of the 20th Century. His grand conclusion:
“And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”
King’s vision – his dream (every leader has one) – was not a day when differences wouldn’t exist; his view of the future anticipated a new era when those differences wouldn’t matter. For Dr. King, the world – his world – was separated by categories that were secondary when measured against the primary qualifier: freedom. To be free would mean that the lines between people that had become chasms and bred chaos would be bridged by the superior status of true freedom: not dismissing definitional individuality, but embracing those facets of fascination in a day still future when those peculiarities would be celebrated instead of separated.
Will that day ever come?
We long for it: in this country, on this planet, in our lifetime. It’s a goal that brings some people together, arm-in-arm… and causes others to take up arms to deny the dream. Wars wage today, with that concept as the point of conflict. There is, however, hope on history’s horizon.
John the Apostle was allowed to see into the future, into the Reign of King Jesus. The Revelation he had of our coming days tells us that Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream would be fulfilled:
And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” (5:9-10)
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (7:9-10)
They held harps given them by God and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations. Who will not fear you, Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” (15:2-4)
Before the throne of God – in Heaven’s Kingdom – differences of tribe and language and race and culture will not disappear… but will inform the richness of redemption, when men and women whose eternal status will be anchored by their place among the saved, and the mission launched by Jesus designed to populate His eternal domain with people from every corner – and, tribal group – of human existence.
Free at last; thank God Almighty, (we will be) free at last…