There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain.
I heard these lyrics rising from an iPhone in a room of at least two dozen people gathered to say their final goodbyes to a beautiful 23 year old man.
The crowd was full of stunned, grieving, loving, young people. Shocked that their friend, brother, cousin, and son was meeting this untimely and unexpected death. He was dying of AIDS, a diagnosis that most were not aware of prior to his hospitalization. Many whispered to me “But I just saw him” or “We were just talking on the phone” or ” He just updated his Instagram.”
Others pulled up his Facebook page for me to see him. They wanted me to see him at his best, not like this. They scrolled through photo after photo of him dancing, smiling, being the life of the party. “See,” they would say, “Isn’t he gorgeous?” And he was.
Another young woman pulled me aside to tell me how he took her in after her mother threw her out for coming out. She cried as she told me how he was the first person to ever show her what pride truly meant. When the nurse pronounced his death, this same young woman let out one of the most haunting screams I have ever heard.
In the midst of the sorrow, tears, and shock, someone’s phone continued to sing out “Break every chain, break every chain, breeeeeeaaaak every chain.” I was touched by how this song felt like a prayer, an invocation. Another rendition of ” Come, Lord Jesus, Come!” Bring us divine liberation from the oppression, the injustice, that took the life of our friend.
I was so touched that I downloaded the song when I got home. But upon listening to the live album version, my sentiments turned to rage. Tasha Cobb, the singer, asks Christ to break the chains of homosexuality, the first thing she names in a list of “sins” for saints to be delivered from.
While I imagined that she was asking God to proclaim a new eschatological reality where all were liberated from oppression, she was actually reinforcing the current reality of prejudice and homophobia. Affirming the same spirit that tossed that young woman out into the streets when she expressed her sexuality, not the one that took her in from the cold.
Prior to my work in hospice, I was naive enough to believe that the war against HIV/AIDS was being won.
And then in one week, I watched the deaths of four black men in their twenties from AIDS.
And then the next week, I sat with a 24 year old black woman with a diagnosis of End Stage AIDS, as she took her last breath
And then the following week, I prayed with a 21 year old Hispanic man, using my elementary Spanish to try to communicate that he was not alone, as he succumbed to AIDS complications.
I believe that Jesus is calling us to break the chains of inequality, poverty, injustice, and homophobia that prevent people, especially young people of color, from getting the AIDS/ HIV treatment, education, care, and love they deserve.
Yes, we must break every chain.