Royal wedding gets a little Black Girl Magic and a true black sermon
I booked my ticket to London as soon as the date for the royal wedding was announced. I booked my room at the Marble Arch Marriott, and I began planning what to wear — if you’re standing along a street waiting to see a horse-drawn carriage bearing the sexier of the two Little Princes of Windsor and England's first African American princess.
Some people here in the U.S. tend to fight that title — African American — because of the growing need to disappear the word African from the American lexicon. But like President Barack Obama, Meghan Markle is both black and white, traditional and contemporary, beautiful and smart.
Two weeks before the big day, I cancelled the trip, realizing the impracticality of flying 3,700 miles and spending two mortgage payments to stand in the sun, waiting on a horse named Tyrone.
But as the wedding unfolded, I instantly regretted not being there.
While watching every nuance of a royal wedding that became a black church service, hearing every word Bishop Michael Bruce Curry preached in a universal sermon that might have once stopped a revolutionary war or civil war, I regretted it most.
The wedding became a where-were-you-when moment. The 65-year-old Curry, the first African American elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, who preached here in metro Detroit a few years ago, didn’t offer a tepid homily. He preached a hot sermon, one that, if you're a black person in America, you might have heard in your own church.
In his sermon entitled, “The Power of Love” (cue Luther Vandross), Curry addressed issues of civil rights, social justice, discrimination and gave a nod to the terrible history those former British subjects created in America with slavery, (There is a ‘Balm in Gilead’). He offered not just a lesson, but a challenge, one that might have encouraged millions to find a church this morning.
He quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and touched on the legacy of slavery, things assuredly new for Windsor Castle. It was a sermon and led some in the audience to wonder where they were.
But I knew.
I knew that millions of us knew as Curry gave a Trans-Atlantic sermon on the mount that changed the very environment in St. George’s Chapel. I’m pretty sure no one had swayed to a preacher’s words or spiritual music in St. George’s Chapel before.
But Oprah did.
And the Kingdom Choir did while offering its rendition of “Stand By Me.” Even that song, made popular by a black man, invoked images of loyalty and love rather than teenage boys searching for a dead body.
Curry preached for Meghan and Harry, but he preached to a globe so troubled that the ceremony, according to a Washington Post account of the wedding, followed “a week that included a school shooting in Santa Fe, Tex., that claimed 10 lives, the killing of more than 60 Palestinian protesters the day of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, and the daily hateful rhetoric that has become normative among partisans in our political climate. (It) challenged guests and viewers alike to also imagine a love so powerful that it could change the world.”
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: 'We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that, we will be able to make of this old world a new world. Love is the only way.'
"There’s power in love,” Curry said. “Do not underestimate it. Anyone who has ever fallen in love knows what I mean."
At one point, Curry reminded himself that he needed to wrap up because Meghan and Harry were waiting to become one, and he hinted at winding up and said, “We gotta get y'all married.”
But he had made the point to the world:
Love, he declared, is "real power. Power to change the world. If you don't believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America's Antebellum South who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform. They explained it this way. They sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity. It's one that says
'There's a balm in Gilead...' a healing balm, something that can make things right.
"There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.
"There is a balm in Gilead
"To heal the sin sick soul."
And one of the stanzas actually explains why. They said:
"If you cannot preach like Peter, and you cannot pray like Paul, you just tell the love of Jesus, how he died to save us all."
"Oh, that's the balm in Gilead! This way of love, it is the way of life. They got it. He died to save us all. He didn't die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He wasn't getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life, for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the well-being of the world, for us.
"That's what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.
"If you don't believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.
"Imagine our homes and families where love is the way.
"Imagine our neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.
"Imagine our governments and nations where love is the way.
"Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
"Imagine this tired old world where love is the way.
"When love is the way — unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
"When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
"When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
"When love is the way, poverty will become history.
"When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
"When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
"When love is the way, there's plenty good room — plenty good room — for all of God's children. Because when love
is the way, we actually treat each other, well ... like we are actually family.
"When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.
"And he gave us the T-shirt: …'Where true love is found, God himself is there.' ”
It isn’t hyperbole to shout about the sheer majesty and history and irony that oozed from Windsor Castle, irony best described by Anthony Lane in his New Yorker account of the wedding: "What occurred today, in summary, was this: an American divorcée married a man whose brother will only become king because of his paternal grandmother’s father, who only became king because his brother wanted to marry an American divorcée."
But the greater achievement was what else happened: Meghan Markle and her prince — and Curry — snuck a black church service into a royal wedding.
And for a moment, we were in Wakanda, the fictional home of the Black Panther, bearing witness to the fact that an American princess who became a British citizen, still has a powerful, intellectually amazing culture that was not going to be swallowed up or diminished by English tradition.
In a ceremony watched by millions and millions of people and was the subject of 3.4 million tweets, Twitter reported, two countries, two cultures, two worlds heard a speech that may become as important as King’s “I Have A Dream."
I’m not kidding.
Yes, some attendees with literal stiff upper lips were distracted, bored or even befuddled by what the bishop did.
But many of us, particularly those of us who share the black half of Markle’s culture and hue, watched a bride and her beloved partner change the paradigm, bring the Royal Family into the 21st Century and introduce millions to African American culture beyond rap and clothes.
And in that moment, Meghan Markle became what England, what America and what the world had been looking for; a person who embodies the real of royalty, the joy of humanity and who declared that she loves a prince but that we should all love each other.