Averyell A. Kessler
Last week, I woke early, snapped on the tv, and learned that Billy Graham had died. As prepared obits blared on TV, I read one on the ABC news app. True to his habit, Rev. Graham had already attracted a crowd. A plethora of loving comments flowed in as well as personal stories and expressions of sympathy. Then, I saw it. An anonymous comment (aren’t they always) “Bye bye, evil one. May you rot in hell.” I was stunned. Heaping curses on a dead man, or anyone is reprehensible. The words were hurtful, mean and intended to provoke. I tried to forget. Didn’t work. The words were already tattooed on my brain.
I heard Rev. Graham preach in person twice, once as a young girl in a small football stadium on Riverside Drive. Every seat was occupied, and people sat on the grass or stood outside to listen on loudspeakers. He arrived in Jackson again when I was older. This time filling college style stadium on North State Street. Two things happened. Again, there was an overflow crowd, standing room only Also, Rev Graham took down ropes dividing the seats into segregated areas.
Later that afternoon, the “bye bye” comment continued to capture my thoughts. I hoped this was not a pop song earworm that would never fade. Then, an astounding thing happened. The hurtful words reversed themselves and my focus shifted. I realized that “Bye bye evil one” is not a new thought, but one plucked from history.
Surely, the same words were spoken on a dark Friday centuries ago when the body of Jesus was lifted from the cross and taken away for burial. While his followers mourned, there was joy elsewhere in Jerusalem. Bye, bye troublemaker, bye bye charlatan who disobeyed our rules, bye bye evil one. You’re gone now. You have no power. No one will remember you.
I imagine these words were intoned over the graves of saints and martyrs, as well as nameless Christians who suffered torment, denunciation, and punishment for their beliefs. Bye bye evil ones, gone and forgotten. You’re a puff of smoke in the midnight sky. We will watch as your bones crumble and decay.
Anti-Semitic violence broke out In 19 century Russia. Pogroms were organized threatening the lives and property of Jews. Bye,Bye folks. We don’t want you here.
Hurtful words appeared again in my hometown, when civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, was gunned down in the driveway of his home. Bye bye, evil one. We’re back to normal now. Back to the proper way of life. No one will speak your name again.
And now, both Christians and Jews are tortured and killed by religious zealots in the middle east and other parts of the world. Bye, bye evil ones, bye bye cursed infidels. You’ve paid the price for clinging to your beliefs. We have settled the score.
I do not know what caused the bye bye writer to post hateful words about Rev. Graham or what his or her life is like. I am not a philosopher or theologian. I’m unqualified to judge another person’s heart or understand anyone’s motivation except my own. But I can guess how Billy would have answered because he said these words many times. “God loves you. Come home.”
As a brief update:
After his death, Billy Graham rested under the Capitol dome in Washington DC. He was the fourth private citizen so honored. Over 2000 people attended his funeral which was televised nationally. His influence in the lives of others cannot be measured.
Thousands of churches, religious institutions, hospitals, schools, etc. bear the names of the beloved saints of God, with more appearing every day. We remember them on saints’ days, study their lives, and see them as glorious examples of God’s children. We sing about them too – “For all the saints who from their labors rest, Who Thee by faith before the world confess…”
Medgar Evers, an icon of the civil rights movement, has been memorialized in the new Civil Rights Museum in downtown Jackson. An international airport and a library have also been named in his honor.
Sadly, many Christians and Jews are still persecuted. But we pray.
Because of extraordinary circumstances, the funeral of Jesus Christ was cancelled.