On this day in 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a 54-mile march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, the state capital. The voting rights march was the third attempt that month. On March 7, “Bloody Sunday,” state and local police attacked some 600 marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, pushing them back into Selma with tear gas and billy clubs. Two days later, King led a symbolic march to the bridge. Afterwards, civil rights advocates sought federal court protection for a full-scale march and got it.
The 3200 marchers covered about 12 miles a day, braving occasional cold drizzle and camping on the side of the road. By the time they reached the capitol building on March 25, their numbers had swelled to 25,000. King delivered the speech, “How Long, Not Long” from the capitol steps, proclaiming, “We are moving to the land of freedom.” That summer, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which outlawed discriminatory requirements to cast a ballot.
King, a Baptist minister, understood that the Christian faith is a march—not a stroll. A march hints of bravery, far-flung destinations, long months on a straight and narrow road. We will be thwarted if we expect to lay hold of Christly riches as we do a candy bar at the 7-11 down the street. Taking the first step of a march means saying good-bye to safe venues, bidding farewell to familiar landmarks and putting ourselves under the authority of a guide who knows the way much better than we do.
Our goal? Nothing less than the Kingdom of Heaven. God’s realm has already broken into our world, though we do not yet see its full splendors. On the horizon we catch a ray of the Kingdom as sickness is miraculously healed, prodigal children returned, and the oppressed set free in Jesus’ name. But we are not content with just a glimmer. With the wind of the Holy Spirit at our backs, we push ever-nearer to the heart of the Kingdom, where the Father rules with Christ at his right hand.
There are many distractions on our march, all sorts of diversions that can tear us away from our mission. But single-minded marchers do their best to “seek first the kingdom” because they know that everything else will be “added unto them” (Matthew 6:33). Kingdom marchers have committed to a long and sometimes arduous journey to find riches that the world cannot give—and which the world can never take away.