Preparing for Easter Worship – George Mason, senior pastor.
Maya Angelou was born on this day in 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. It seems fitting to view her life in an Easter frame.
While working in Ghana in 1965, Maya met Malcolm X. He convinced her to come back to the States to help him establish the Organization of African American Unity. Days after she arrived, he was assassinated. She later agreed to work with Martin Luther King, Jr. On this same day, April 4, in 1968, also her 40th birthday, King was assassinated. She fell into depression.
Friends recommended that she write an autobiography, but she repeatedly refused. James Baldwin knew her spirit. He suggested a different tactic to a Random House editor. The editor called one last time and told Maya that it was just as well she refused because it’s too difficult to write an autobiography that is also good literature. Challenge accepted. The result was the acclaimed I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.
Maya Angelou always kept the slave narrative in her mind, as it played itself out through her body, too. The legacy of slavery and white supremacy continues to haunt Black Americans, as they feel themselves assigned to the lowest place in the social hierarchy.
But Angelou also had her Christian faith to buoy her whenever she felt she was being pulled under the current for good. It’s an Easter faith rooted in deliverance from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection was foreshadowed in the deliverance from slavery of the children of Israel through the deadly waters of the Sea.
It wasn’t an Easter poem per se, as she wrote Still I Rise for the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993. But the theme of rising is nothing but Easter truth. The first and last stanzas remind us of that because Christ’s resurrection power is still loose in the world.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.