What would’ve run through my mind if I were reading Romans 5:1-5 during the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956? I ask this question for two reasons.
First, Romans 5:1-5 is in our lectionary readings for tomorrow. Second, I’ve been reading about a church in Montgomery which was at the centre of the 381-day Montgomery Bus Boycott which began on 1 December 1955 in response to an act of civil disobedience by Rosa Parks.
Romans 5:1-5 begins with the phrase “justified by faith.” It’s particularly meaningful for Lutherans. Why?
Because it was Martin Luther’s ruminations on “justified by faith” which crushed the sale of indulgences by the church of his day, and birthed Protestantism. That was in the 16th century.
The Montgomery bus boycott was in the 20th century. It crushed “legal” segregation of blacks and whites on the buses of Montgomery – and achieved much more. Another Martin Luther featured in it.
Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was the leader of the group of civil and Christian leaders who kept the boycott going till it met its goals.
He was the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist church, located on the road where Rosa Parks boarded the bus on that day. Over the next 13 months, it was one of many churches which hosted “Monday night meetings” to inform and motivate the boycotters.
They gathered after long days of walking and waiting and hurting. When they gathered, they sang. They prayed. They heard preachers.
They exercised faith, they stood in grace, they rejoiced, they suffered, they hoped, they endured, they grew in character, they practiced love.
The words, “peace, faith, grace, rejoice, suffering, endure, character, love” can all be found in Romans 5:1-5. It’s a passage which also speaks of God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. It’s trinitarian.
I don’t know whether, on those evenings, they expressed any sense of being “justified by grace” in the sense of being sinners who, thanks to the price paid by Christ on the cross, were “reconciled with God” and could stand in His presence. I do know they prayed, especially through songs.
Many of the boycotters were regular church goers. So, I’m sure they read their Bibles frequently during those days. Photos show them often in each other’s company – meeting, walking, or protesting.
If I’d been with them and if I’d been reading Romans 5:1-5 during the bus boycott, what would I have said to my companions?
I hope I would’ve said:
We don’t have peace with most of our white neighbours, we don’t have peace with some of our fellow black neighbours, because some of them think we should abandon peaceful ways and adopt the use of force. But thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross, the Spirit has assured me that I have peace with God.