Freedom Church of the Poor / Iglesia del Pueblo
Service Title: Days of Liberation: May Day
Scripture: Revelation 5:11-14, Mark 1:16-20

Dr. C. Wess Daniels, Director of Quaker Center and Quaker studies at Guilford College

I’m sure all, or at least most, of you know that May Day is an important day of remembering the importance of worker solidarity. May 1st, historically was celebrated with festivals, dancing, and singing as the first day of summer. But in 1888, it was picked to commemorate the Haymarket massacre in Chicago on May 4th 1886. During that time workers were rallying peacefully for an 8 hour work day when conflict broke out that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 11 people and more wounded. Haymarket holds deep significance, as a galvanizing moment in worker solidarity that was certainly not the first, nor the last struggle for people to gain better working conditions, wages, hours, benefits, and let’s face it basic dignity.

What, if anything, does something like May Day, where we lift up worker solidarity have to do with the book of Revelation? Since the time of pastor John Nelson Darby and lawyer and politician C.I. Scofield, in the mid to late 1800s, the book of Revelation has been interpreted as a book that predicts the end times. If you know much about their theology of the rapture and dispensationalism, you know that core to its theology is that God’s people get to evacuate the struggles of earth and go to heaven without having to deal with or work out the issues on earth. Rapture theology is like an escape hatch for God’s select. I have also heard it referred to as evacuation theology. Either way, implicit in this theology is an abdication of responsibility for where things are now, the suffering that people face, and the structures that some benefit from that creates that suffering – no wonder someone like Scofield who was trained as a politician (and who lied about being ordained by the way!) was such a big proponent of this.

During the same time that Scofield was popularizing this kind of theology, workers around the country were trying to get things changed. I find it unfortunately, not ironic at all that during the time of the Haymarket Massacre you have this kind of evacuation theology being peddled by some Christians – like we see today this kind of theology of abdication acts in service to empire. There’s no time to wait for some after-party in the sky. May Day represents a need for the kingdom of God to be enacted here on earth.

Therefore, rather than read Revelation wrongly as a piece on end-times-theology, it is a letter that was circulated around freedom churches of the poor. Communities of the fledgling Christian movement trying to survive and resist assimilation into the Roman Empire.

Revelation looks to answer the question: What does it mean to be faithful to God as disempowered people living under empire? Revelation should be read as a document of subversion and resistance to empire, not magical escape the problems empire creates.

As an apocalyptic text, it is about unmasking the religion of empire and the ways in which empire uses the name of God to justify systems that benefit some at the expense of everyone else. Revelation unmasks how this works in the ancient Roman Empire but quite frankly its insights hold true for empires today too.

As we see here in Revelation 5:11-14 – one of the most important passages of the book of Revelation, and perhaps all of the New Testament, we see an unexpected image. Earlier in the chapter the reader follows an interesting sequence: John, the one having the vision hears words of power and strength, dominance, even perhaps military might described by the elders when they say: “Do not weep. See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.”

But then, what he actually sees is something dramatically different: “Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” Revelation 5:6

This phrase “the lamb that was slaughtered” is a recurring refrain throughout all of Revelation – it is repeated 28 times. This image is meant to shape the early Christian understanding of resistance to empire. John reveals that the early church is not waiting for a way out whether through dominance or evacuation. Jesus’ nonviolent death demonstrated that no military was being sent from heaven to bring military conquest. Instead, the early freedom church of the poor, is given the image of the Lamb that was slaughtered. A image of absolute solidarity. This image of the lamb slaughtered yet risen stands in for Jesus, who was himself a poor man, a worker, an organizer of the poor, and one who was a victim of the Roman empire.

Jesus demonstrated that God is not just in solidarity with but is actually among the poor workers that empire continues to oppress, exploit, and scapegoat. The execution of Jesus as a poor man linked with Revelation’s call to resist empire tells us that there have been May Days that go all the way back to the original for the Freedom Church of the poor as well.

When we join together as a church in worship, communion, sharing what we have with one another freely, joined together in the Spirit of the slaughtered, yet risen Lamb, we are in community with all victims of empire in Jesus.

Later in Revelation 7 there is an image of the multitude, a community of all those represented in the world who follow this slaughtered lamb. In that image, at the very center of the scene with the Lamb are those who have been victims of empire as well. Whether we call it the multitude, the Freedom Church of the Poor, or by another name, communities that gather in the name of Jesus who was himself a poor worker exploited by imperial power must continue to center all those who today find themselves in the same situations. As our dear friend, Aaron Scott says, “Same Sin, Different Day.”

The Freedom Church must continue to reject and expose evacuation theology and other theologies of empire that lead us to ignore, feel numb towards, or worse leave behind those struggling. Instead, we see that the Lamb that was slaughtered was himself a victim of empire who leads us into resistance and solidarity with all those crushed by the powers and principalities. Instead of silencing their pain, we seek to stand with those suffering and take responsibility for the creation of a new world.

As Aaron Scott says, “Poor people are not the problem. A society that allows poverty to exist is the problem.” Amen.

Rev. Amaury Tañón-Santos, board president, Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State

El evangelista Marcos da testimonio de Jesús en el capítulo 1 de la siguiente manera:

Andando junto al mar de Galilea, vio a Simón y a Andrés su hermano, que echaban la red en el mar; porque eran pescadores. Y les dijo Jesús: Venid en pos de mí, y haré que seáis pescadores de hombres. Y dejando luego sus redes, le siguieron. Pasando de allí un poco más adelante, vio a Jacobo hijo de Zebedeo, y a Juan su hermano, también ellos en la barca, que remendaban las redes.Y luego los llamó; y dejando a su padre Zebedeo en la barca con los jornaleros, le siguieron.

Yo no sé si usted lee como yo el texto, pero a mi me parece que desde el comienzo de su ministerio, Jesús fue un organizador comunitario y sindical. Allá se acercó Jesús a jornaleros en una de las profesiones más necesarias y precarias de la Palestina del siglo primero – ser pescador. Allí llamó a dos parejas de hermanos para que les siguiera cómo organizadores de trabajadores. Jesús vino al mundo a acercar la intención divina de justicia, bienestar, paz, salud y dignidad. Y si seguimos leyendo el texto de los evangelios dígame usted si es cierto o no que lo que Jesús hizo fue organizar a trabajadoras y trabajadores de múltiples sectores laborales y espacios sociales para que juntos armaran una comunidad de justicia, solidaridad y paz. Este trabajo de Jesús en la tierra es el mismo que los sindicatos buscan animar para el bienestar de trabajadores, sus familias y comunidades enteras. Y como hemos estado escuchando, Jesús hizo esto en una realidad de coloniaje e imperio que sufría la cuenca del Mar Mediterráneo.

Yo tengo el privilegio de servir como presidente de la junta directiva de la Coalición Sindical-Religiosa del Estado de Nueva York. También laboro como principal oficial ejecutivo de los Ministerios Comunitarios de Schenectady – una colaboración interreligiosa a favor del acceso a alimentos y del trabajo de base comunitaria.

Ese ejemplo de Jesús es un referente importante para entender la conexión entre la solidaridad que debe existir entre los sectores religiosos y sindicales. Los mandatos éticos y morales de la mayoría de las religiones son mandatos de justicia, equidad, bienestar, salud y paz para toda la comunidad. El norte del movimiento sindical es lograr ambientes laborales que contribuyan al desarrollo de las comunidades, a una vida digna para las familias. La dignidad como base fundamental del ser humano es meta y norte para la labor religiosa y sindical.

Así que celebro con ustedes, y con ustedes me uno en solidaridad. Poraue mucho trabajo queda por delante, y lograremos la victoria de la justicia un paso a la vez, un paso a la vez juntos.

The evangelist Mark bears witness to Jesus in chapter 1 as follows:

Walking by the Sea of ​​Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew, his brother, casting the net into the sea; because they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men. And immediately leaving their nets, they followed him. Going on from there a little farther on, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, they also in the boat, mending the nets. And then he called them; and leaving his father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, they followed him.

I don’t know if you read the text the way I do, but it seems to me that from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus was a community and union organizer. There Jesus approached laborers in one of the most necessary and precarious professions in first-century Palestine – being a fisherman. There he called two pairs of brothers to follow him as worker organizers. Jesus came into the world to bring closer the divine intention of justice, well-being, peace, health and dignity. And if we continue reading the text of the gospels, tell me if it is true or not that what Jesus did was organize workers from multiple labor sectors and social spaces so that together they could build a community of justice, solidarity and peace. This work of Jesus on earth is the same that unions seek to encourage for the well-being of workers, their families and entire communities. And as we have been hearing, Jesus did this in a reality of colonization and empire that was suffering from the basin of the Mediterranean Sea.

I have the privilege of serving as chairman of the board of directors of the New York State Religious-Labor Coalition. He also served as CEO of Schenectady Community Ministries-an interfaith collaboration for food access and community-based work.

That example of Jesus is an important reference to understand the connection between the solidarity that should exist between the religious and trade union sectors. The ethical and moral mandates of most religions are mandates of justice, equity, welfare, health and peace for the entire community. The north of the trade union movement is to achieve work environments that contribute to the development of communities, to a decent life for families. Dignity as the fundamental basis of the human being is the goal and north for religious and trade union work.

So I celebrate with you, and with you I join in solidarity. Because much work lies ahead, and we will achieve the victory of justice one step at a time, one step at a time together.

Communion Rev. Liz Theoharis, director of the Kairos Center and co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign

(Sources: Katherine Hawker (K. HawkerSelf, http://liturgyoutside.net);  “Liturgy from Below,” by Dr. Claudio Calvalhares; Joe Paparone’s communion liturgy at Freedom Church Sept, 2021, Rev. Liz’s communion liturgy, Presbyterian Communion liturgy.  Adapted by Adam Barnes, Arelis Figueroa, and others)

Rev. Sonsiris Hoy nos reunimos en esta mesa en el espíritu de las comunidades cristianas del primer siglo: Ninguna de ellas afirmó que sus posesiones eran suyas, y compartían todo lo que tenían entre sí, la comunidad/comunión era, si se quiere, su “proyecto de supervivencia,” una forma de organizarse contra el imperio, satisfaciendo las necesidades de la comunidad, y en el proceso, mostrando una nueva forma de amor y justicia.

Rev. Liz: Today we gather at this table in the spirit of the first century Christian communities:  None of them claimed that their possessions were their own, and they shared everything they had with each other, community/communion was, if you will, their “project of survival.”  Their way of organizing against the empire by meeting the needs of the community and in the process showing a new way of love and Justice.

Rev. Sonsiris – Hoy llegamos a esta mesa de compañerismo de libertad y liberación con la esperanza y la determinación de que el empobrecimiento se puede terminar, no sólo aliviar, con la esperanza y la determinación de que cada persona sin hogar pueda ser alojada, que aquellos que tienen hambre puedan ser alimentados. Testificamos que el empobrecimiento no es causada por el fracaso moral de los pobres, sino por un sistema que crea, por diseño, con violencia económica, pobreza para muchos y riqueza para unos pocos. Empobrecimiento quiere decir, hacer a un ser humano, o an un pueblo, pobre.  

Rev. Liz: Today we come to this table of freedom and liberation fellowship with the hope and determination that impoverishment can be ended, not just alleviated, with the hope and determination that every homeless person can be housed, that those who are hungry can be fed. We testify that impoverishment is not caused by the moral failure of the poor, but by a system that creates, by design, with economic violence, poverty for the many and wealth for the few. Impoverishment means to make a human being, or even a people, poor. 

Rev. Sonsiris – Esta es la mesa del recuerdo; recordamos que Dios elige a los pobres y condena a los ricos una y otra vez. Recordamos las historias de pan partido y compartido, multitudes alimentadas, historias de encuentros entre, enemigos y amigos, rechazados y marginados, juntos alrededor de mesas.

Rev. Liz: This is the table of remembrance; We remember that God chooses the poor and condemns the rich over and over again. We remember the stories of bread broken and shared, feeding a multitude. Stories of being gathered, enemy and friend, outcast and marginalized, together around tables.

Rev. Sonsiris – Nos unimos para tomar y compartir el pan y el agua de vida. Dios nos recuerda que estas fuentes de vida no pertenecen a ninguno de nosotros de manera particular,  sino que  nos mantenemos unidos y somos bendecidos cuando llegan a todos. Este es el pan y el agua que nos permite a todos sobrevivir y prosperar.

Rev. Liz:  We join in taking and sharing the bread and water of life. God reminds us that these sources of life do not belong to any one of us, but are held together by all of us and become blessed when they reach everyone. This is the bread and water that allows us all to survive and thrive.

Rev. Sonsiris – Independientemente de cómo hayas elegido participar esta noche, te invitamos  a renovar tu compromiso con este movimiento que nos sostiene a todos, y con nuestra lucha colectiva por el mundo que necesitamos y merecemos, un mundo basado en la justicia, la verdad y el amor.

Rev. Liz: However you’ve chosen to partake this evening, we invite you in this time we’ve shared to recommit to that which holds us all, and to our collective struggle for the world we need and deserve, a world grounded in justice, truth, and love.

Rev. Sonsiris – En esta mesa estamos conectados con todos aquellos que han conocido el hambre y la sed. En esta mesa estamos invitados a recordar cómo Jesús comió y bebió para forjar relaciones más allá de las fronteras. Venimos como vienen todos los invitados, libres de juicio, invitados a dejar de lado nuestros prejuicios, carencias y dudas, para recibir esta hospitalidad.

Esta noche, recordamos una comida donde Jesús estaba reunido con sus discípulos, la víspera de su crucifixión donde sería asesinado como una amenaza para el imperio. Aunque entre personas que tenían dudas, que tenían hambre y eran pobres, incluso con personas que lo traicionarían y tratarían de socavar el reino de Dios aquí en la tierra, Jesús celebró la comunidad y la posibilidad que lo rodeaba. Reunido con la gente, tomó el pan y dijo:

“Tomad, comed todos. Este es mi cuerpo partido por ti. Siempre que lo comas, acuérdate de mí y de todos los que han muerto luchando por la justicia”.

De la misma manera, tomó la copa después de la cena, la bendijo y la compartió, diciendo: “Tomen esta copa y beban todos de ella. Esta copa es la copa de la vida, del renacimiento, de la justicia. Siempre que bebas, acuérdate de mí y de todos los que han muerto por la injusticia”

Ofrecemos este pan y esta copa a todos, a ustedes, a los ansiosos, a los que dudan, a los que saben que una nueva comunidad y mundo es posible. Venid todos los que tenéis hambre y sed de alimento y de justicia. Ven y sé lleno.

Rev. Liz – At this table we are connected to all those who have known hunger and thirst. At this table we are invited to remember how Jesus ate and drank to forge relationships across boundaries. We come as all guests come, free of judgment, invited to leave our prejudices, shortcomings and doubts aside, to receive this hospitality.

This evening, we remember a meal where Jesus was gathered with his disciples, the eve of his crucifixion where he would be killed as a threat to empire. Although among people who were in doubt, were hungry and poor themselves, even with people who would betray him and try to undermine God’s kingdom here on earth, Jesus celebrated the community and possibility surrounding him. Gathered with the people, he took the bread and said,

“Take, eat, all of you. This is my body broken for you. Whenever you eat it, remember me and all those who have died striving for justice.”

In the same way, he took the cup after supper, blessed it and shared it, saying, “Take this cup and drink of it all of you. This cup is the cup of life, rebirth, justice. Whenever you drink, remember me and all those who have died from injustice”

We offer this bread and cup to all, to you—the eager, the doubtful, the ones who know a new community and world is possible. Come, all you who hunger and thirst for food and justice. Come and be filled.