Lection Connection

June 26, 2022: Pick Up the Mantle

From Joan Kessler

 

In the early morning hours of December 23, 2021, a monument created by Danish artist Jens Galschiot to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre was removed from the University of Hong Kong campus. The Pillar of Shame depicts the agony and human suffering of the democracy protest that turned violent and saw thousands of students killed on June 4, 1989.

 

The sculpture was intentionally designed to create discomfort on the part of the viewer and to serve as a reminder of the cost of the pursuit of freedom and democracy. The twisted facial expressions convey the agony of Tiananmen Square and allow the artwork to stand as a constant reminder of this part of Hong Kong’s history. The removal of the Pillar of Shame was taken as an attempt to erase collective memory of the massacre but defenders of Hong Kong democracy say they will not be deterred.

 

Even before the removal of Galshiot’s monument to the tragedy, observing the June 4th anniversary was becoming increasingly restricted. The 30th anniversary of the massacre in 2019 was the last time it was marked in Hong Kong by a mass gathering in Victoria Park. In 2020, a national security law came into effect, essentially banning public gatherings in Hong Kong. COVID-19 restrictions were also cited as a reason for the discontinuation of public vigils in Hong Kong. Memorial church services traditionally held to commemorate the anniversary are no longer taking place out of fear of breaking the law. Taipei, Taiwan, has become the new centre for remembrance as it continues to resist China’s claims to sovereignty. There is a sense of renewed urgency to share the story of what happened at Tiananmen Square to ensure that this history is passed on and the last vestiges of freedom of speech and democracy are preserved. In a recent Globe and Mail story (Saturday, June 4/22) covering the turn of events in Hong Kong, Mabel Tung, chair of the Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement, encouraged those who live in democratic nations around the world to “pick up the torch and make sure the flame of freedom and democracy remain burning.”

 

This week, we read that Elijah’s work as a prophet is winding down. Elisha, his young accompanier, is adamant that he will not leave Elijah’s side. In a miraculous scene, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separate the two of them and Elijah ascends to heaven in a whirlwind. But as he departs, Elijah’s mantle falls to the ground and Elisha picks it up. With the mantle in hand, Elisha asks, “Where is the God of Elijah?” He strikes the water before him on the bank of the Jordan and the water parts allowing Elisha to cross over. This story sees Elisha empowered to pick up the mantle and carry on the work Elijah started as a prophet.

 

As we remember this month the solemn anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the efforts of one regime to erase it from the memory of history, may we work alongside those who have been and continue to be tireless defenders of freedom and democracy.

 

Explore… 2 Kings 2:1–2, 6–14

  • How have you picked up the mantle and carried on the legacy left by a loved one? Was it a natural handover or did it you have to move out of your comfort zone?
  • What matters of justice and freedom, like Tiananmen Square, are in danger of being erased from history and our collective memory?

 

Prayer…

Holy One, may we never forget the gift of freedom and democracy so that we might be the voice of memory. Strengthen us to pick up the mantle of those who have gone before us and fought the fight for justice and truth. Amen.

 

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