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Resisting Erasure

Rev. Harry Currie

Mar 29, 2024

Jeremiah 4:23-27, Jeremiah 33:12-16, Mark 15:21-39

It is the propensity of empires, characteristically to erase minority populations.

Especially so, if they find that the minority populations are troubling, or disruptive or even just inconvenient.


Empires do this work of erasure, because they don’t care about individuals, they care about power… keeping power, enhancing power, acquiring control and maintaining control.

Minorities often do not want to be controlled, changed, manipulated, coerced, assimilated or done away with, and so they usually are troublesome, disruptive or inconvenient, at least to the empire.


The two major ways of empires dealing with minorities are pretty obvious, pretty stark and pretty devastating to the minorities.

On one hand, they just practice genocide and erase the people all together.

       On the other hand, the plan is to assimilate the people and destroy their language and culture and identity, in order to make them fit in with the dominant culture.


That we call cultural genocide.

The reality is that the decrease in aboriginal populations in the Americas was catastrophic after the arrival of Europeans.

There were cases of overt and intentional genocide, and there were case of overt assimilation as with the Residential Schools for aboriginal children.


But with a combination of violence, exploitation, moving aboriginals from their homes, starvation, malnutrition and disease, the aboriginal populations lost by some estimates 80-90% of its populations.


       In Newfoundland the Beothuks went extinct. So, to argue whether it was genocide or not, whether the Europeans intended it or not, is kind of moot. In practice they were annihilated and the Empire didn’t care.


It is a matter of historical record that the United States government, led by Andrew Jackson and reinforced by the state government of Georgia, required the forcible removal of Cherokee tribes in the 1820’s and required that they move west of the Mississippi along what has been called the Trail of Tears to their new home in Oklahoma.

They were moved because it paved the way for cotton agriculture, because it paved the way for lucrative mining on their land, and because of blatant racism.

Estimates are that about a third of the roughly 17000 Cherokee died on the way.

Some scholars say it doesn’t meet the standard of genocide because they weren’t attacked, or forced to changed their language, but other scholars argue that the policies of the government resulted in the deaths, and therefore had the effect of being genocidal.


There are many monuments now along the trail of tears. To be precise there is not one trail of tears, but several different trails that different tribes were forced to take.

       These monuments are witness to the aboriginal peoples who used to live there. They are witness to white supremacy and white entitlement and to profound racism.

They are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to American racism and the attempted erasure and cultural assimilation of blacks and other races.


However, something interesting happened just over 20 years ago which Andrew Denson recorded in his book, Monuments to Absence, Cherokee Removal and the Contest over Southern Memory. (page 221)


I quote:

In 2012, small white signs began appearing next to monuments and roadside markers related to Cherokee history in western North Carolina and southeastern Tennessee. In red letters, printed in both the Cherokee syllabary and English, they stated simply, “we are still here…The new sign, however, deftly reworked the old, reminding passersby that this place is still Cherokee ground and that the Cherokee people remain present.


We are still here.


It is a bold affirmation of a minority that wouldn’t be erased, that stand up to empire and stands for truth and justice. It is also a bold statement that there are limits to empires who think they are limitless and have ultimate power. There are powers stronger than even than the strongest empire and one of those powers is truth.


It reminds us of a story that came out of the time of the Holocaust where the Nazis decided they would erase all Jews. In a particular community where the Nazis were in control, there were ten Jewish men who would meet in secret as their synagogue practice. It was so dangerous that most of the time their meetings were in total silence. One time one man decided to risk breaking the silence and he whispered, “Wir sind da.”

The phrase is Yiddish for, “We are here.”


It, like the Cherokee declaration, was an affirmation of truth and defiance against the empire. It was an affirmation of community, and their right to exist; and it was saying boldly that there are limits to the Nazis attempt at erasing minorities with their “final solution.” There should be nothing final about erasing humans.


We read the bible and we know that the practice of Imperial Erasure, of Empire erasing minorities, of genocide, before we even had that term, goes back a long way.


It seems that the Jews many times were a minority community that was inconvenient, troublesome and disruptive to various empires.


The Egyptian Pharoah killed the Jewish baby boys…  a form of genocide.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel was totally wiped out by the Assyrians in 721 BCE

The Southern Kingdom of Judah where Jerusalem was located was conquered by the Babylonians, some 40,000 taken as slaves, thousands more put to the sword and the city of Jerusalem so destroyed that it was said that wasn’t even one stone stacked on another after the devastation.


Then during the exile Haman tried to have the Jews erased and was saved by the bravery of Queen Esther.


Then in between the time of the Old and New Testaments, when Alexander the Great conquered, the Jews came under the influence of the Greeks who tried to erase Jewish worship and culture in their process of Hellenization.


And later the Romans came. Jesus gave warnings about what the Romans would do and scholars think he tried to warn them against violent resistance. Some fourty years after the death of Jesus, the Romans tried their own version of a final solution against the Jews and wiped out pretty much everything and left Jerusalem in ruins.


There was those who believe that some of the punishments and attempted erasures were actually the fault of the Jews for consistently wandering off the path, for not staying true to God, for thinking they were entitled as a chosen people, for not practicing justice and equality, and for not looking out for the minorities, the foreigners and the poor within their own culture.

Listen to some words from Jeremiah…


I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;

and to the heavens, and they had no light.

I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,

and all the hills moved to and fro.

I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,

and all the birds of the air had fled.

I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,

and all its cities were laid in ruins

before the Lord, before his fierce anger

(Jeremiah 4:23-26).


It is reminiscent of the flood story, where the scripture seems to indicate that God will punish, destroy and erase those who do not do his will.

A lot of Christian theology over the ages and even today still keeps that erasure theology.

      God will punish, destroy, kill and erase those who are not Christian or who are bad, or who don’t follow his will.

But if you continue on in that Jeremiah passage in verse 27 you get these words…


For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.


The Lord will not make a full end. The Lord will not erase. The Lord will practice grace.


The Biblical witness is not erasure, no matter how bad, how far one is fallen. The Biblical witness is grace, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.


And later in Jeremiah we are going to hear more about what that grace is… In chapter 33.


14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’


Instead of erasure, God has something else planned. A Messiah… A Saviour…

We Christians call him by name, Jesus. He has not come to condemn us, losers that we are, but to save us.

To save us from erasure, to save us to love one another, and to save us to stand up for all the minorities that are in danger of being erased.


For this Saviour, this Messiah loves everyone and his message is that God loves you, and values you, and treasures you, even if the empire think you are worthless, troublesome or inconvenient.

       And this Saviour, this Messiah, has come to teach us a different way of being, not of power and control and getting rid of your enemies, but of love and service and forgiving your enemies.


But the Empire decided that Jesus was troublesome, disruptive and inconvenient.

And I don’t mean just the Roman Empire, but the powers that be, that included Jewish religious and political leadership.


And so, the Powers of this world decided they would erase justice, erase truth, erase love, erase community, erase forgiveness, and put Jesus on the cross.


We Christians hold up the cross. It is maybe our most treasured symbol. And what we hold up as a symbol is the sign of imperial erasure.

      But at the same time, it is the sign that God is here with us saying no to those powers which find us inconvenient, troublesome or disruptive.

It is God saying no to final solutions and earthly erasures.

It is God saying on the cross and through the resurrection.

I am here. I am here and I love you.


It is God saying the Cherokee declaration: ‘We are here.’

It is God saying the Jewish declaration. “Wir sind da.”

       We are here, and I God, and I Jesus and I Spirit are family with you. We are here together with you.


And so, the church is witness to what happened on the cross, that Jesus came to save all people and to treasure minorities, and all those who are inconvenient, troublesome and disruptive to the earthly powers and empires who rule.

       And as the church we are called to take up our cross and be troublesome, inconvenient and disruptive as we say “no” to erasure…

       And say no to racism, to acts of terror against Jews, or Palestinians or Muslims, or the black community.

       Violence against people of colour is erasure.

Violence against people who worship differently is erasure.

       Violence against the LGBTQ+ community is erasure.

       War itself is erasure.


We stand with the trans community for their rights, and with women, who don’t receive equal pay, and with the homeless and with the poor…

                                                  And we say “We are here.”

       We are here with you and for you, for God is good, and God is grace and God is here.

       God is here, and God is love, and God is for you and not against you. How do we know that?

Because Jesus died on the cross and loved us and forgave us. And because Jesus rose again to prove that love.

And our Easter declaration is… He is here…

Or as we translate in the church… Christ is risen.        Amen.

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