Black Lives Matter: We Found Healing in Rizpah’s Model of Public Grieving
We have issued a call to action. During this Faith, Food, and Freedom Summer we are organizing and mobilizing the Black Church community around health, wealth, and power.
bcfsn
July 8, 2020

IMAGE CREDIT: Rizpah ​(Rizpah Mourns Her Sons) |  Lauren Wright Pittman  | © A Sanctified Art LLC | sanctifiedart.org

2 SAMUEL 3:7; 21:1-14  || Rizpah Mourns Her Sons: Public Grief That Inspires Action 

A famine strikes the land and the world falls apart around Rizpah, one of Saul’s secondary or low-status wives. Her sons are murdered, offered as human sacrifices in an effort to end the famine. Instead of receiving a proper burial, they are lynched on a mountain and left there to rot. In response, Rizpah publicly laments their death, staying with the bodies at the top of the mountain for months, enduring the rainy season. When King David hears about Rizpah’s public display of grief, he retrieves the men’s bones and buries them properly with Saul in Saul’s family grave. How do we grieve in the wake of unthinkable injustice and loss? Rizpah shows us an honest, unapologetic grief and persistent strength in honoring the innocent lives of those taken from her. Her public unraveling motivates the king to amend, as best he can, some of his wrongs.  (from A Sanctified Art)


We grow gardens as an act of resistance. We grow to build resilience in our communities. We do this work during the coronavirus pandemic that is unfolding upon the wreckage of the pandemic called racism. We grow gardens and build our collective ecosystem of black gardeners, farmers, and churches utilizing the land to grow food, even while we publicly grieve and keep vigil over the memories of lynched black bodies. On May 25, 2020, we heard George Floyd use his last breaths to call for his deceased mother, Larcenia Jones Floyd. His cry pierced our hearts and souls. We have responded like Rizpah.

Rizpah, in her act of public mourning, kept vigil not only over her own two sons, but also over the five sons of Merab. We don’t know what happened to Merab that day. Maybe the brutal power abuse which yielded her sons up for the random selection of human sacrifice also robbed her sanity; perhaps she was unable to do what Rizpah gathered the strength to do. Perhaps she too had died by the time Rizpah made her stand. Rizpah, who the biblical text noted simply as “concubine” before noting her name, was treated by law as a sexual commodity. But Rizpah’s vigil displayed her moral authority. 

We have responded like Rizpah. Like modern-day Rizpahs, our hearts broke and our bodies answered the call to keep vigil over George Floyd’s remains. We, many of us black mothers and fathers whose foremothers were treated as sexual commodities, stand in the gap to publicly mourn and stand guard. Like Mamie Till-Mosbley, mother of Emmitt Till, we say “Let the people see what [we’ve] seen. Let the people see what they’ve done…” We stand to ensure his memory is not desecrated, to ensure his metaphorical bones have been properly laid to rest in the public domain, in the wake of such unthinkable violence. Rizpah kept a months-long vigil on the holy mountain: sitting in the rain, wind, and under the sun, guarding these seven decomposing bodies from animals as they underwent decay. Her selfless act of moral courage did not relent until King David finally took notice and took action to bring a remedy. And only after this action did God answer prayer on behalf of the land.

Like Rizpah, we have weathered many seasons during the 400-plus years of power abuse and the random selection of our children for sacrifice to the gods of power, greed and pride upon the unholy bedrock of the United States. Many have been taken in the name of these gods and still there is no peace in the land. We are troubled on every side. We stand in the gap for Larcenia, mother of George; Tamika Palmer, mother of Breonna; Wanda Cooper-Jones, mother of Ahmaud; Bessie Clayton, mother of Dominique Clayton; Sheneen McClain, mother of Elijah McClain; Stepanie Bass, mother of Eric Reason; and Yolanda Carr, mother of Atatiana Jefferson.

We are the collective Mothers who answered George Floyd’s dying call to his Mama and responded by spreading our sackcloth on the rock to lament. Our rocks are the asphalt and pavement of protest sites in cities across the United States and around the world. Our rocks are the ground we tend as acts of resistance during a pandemic that has exacerbated hunger in our communities. We spread our sackcloth by repeating George’s and Breonna’s names over and over again. By cultivating joy in our gardens. By keeping the memory of their bodies in the eyes of all who must see while protecting our sacred space of God-given peace when we connect to the land. By feeding ourselves food that will heal us in the midst of a global health crisis. Food from our own gardens; from our own hands. Someone must feed the movement. And we will continue until those in power not only take notice like King David but take meaningful action to remedy the wrongs committed. Black Lives Matter. Rizpah and Merab’s sons mattered.

But what does it mean to properly lay the bones of our unjustly dead to rest?  

God did not end the famine and heal the land until the remains of the seven sons of Rizpah and Merab along with the stolen bones of their father Saul and his son Jonathan, were properly laid to rest. The disgrace of leaving the bodies hanging to become food for beasts of prey was the greatest indignity one could experience. It extended beyond their deaths to shame their very memory before the people. This failure to receive a proper burial was believed to bring defilement and a curse upon the whole land. It was the proper burial that restored dignity and allowed for healing. 

We too have been immersed in a struggle to lay the bones to rest. How long must we stand guard? The ruling institutions governing our land must finally take notice and take action to bring remedy. Until then we will maintain black bodies in plain view. Our struggle toward freedom requires us to do so. 

Our call to action remains the same: we will continue to promote gardening, patronize black farmers, and practice emergency food storage to prepare us in this season and beyond.

Oh God, answer our prayer on behalf of the land. Amen.

Continue listening: “Public Grief Inspires Action: Rizpah & the COGICgarden” a talk with Pastors Leah Roberts-Mosser, Angela Menke Ballou and BCFSN’s Rana Dotson.


Biblical Text References

2 SAMUEL 3:7; 21:1-14   ||   Rizpah Mourns Her Sons  (Public Grief That Inspires Action in the midst of Famine)  

7 Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?”

21 During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the Lord. The Lord said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

2 The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to spare them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) 3 David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?”

4 The Gibeonites answered him, “We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” David asked.

5 They answered the king, “As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel, 6 let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul—the Lord’s chosen one.”

So the king said, “I will give them to you.”

7 The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the Lord between David and Jonathan son of Saul. 8 But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[a] whom she had borne to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. 9 He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the Lord. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning.

10 Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night. 11 When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had stolen their bodies from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.) 13 David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up.14 They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land

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