By Rev. Dr. Daisy L. Machado
Holy Week 2023 is upon us and the Christian community around the world has begun the spiritual journey from Jerusalem and the triumphant entry of Jesus to the harsh and dark days that loom ahead. Maundy Thursday marks a moment of intimacy and friendship as Jesus serves his disciples a supper imbued with a sense of urgency and as he calls his disciples to remember. Holy Friday marks a time of betrayal and loss as Jesus is arrested and separated from his beloved community to confront the unjust weight of the laws of the Roman Empire where his death seems the only outcome. Yet, as the faith community grieves, we must not forget that the hope of Easter Sunday still looms ahead. Above all, hope looms ahead.
On March 28 the headlines told of the tragic death of 38 undocumented immigrants who tragically died in a fire in a detention center in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico right across the U.S. border. Those who died included immigrants from Guatemala, Honduras, Venezuela, El Salvador, Colombia and Ecuador, countries that are experiencing internal turmoil and crisis. As we gaze upon this border region the vulnerability of these migrants continues to be a key issue. The news reports state that the fire was started by the detained immigrants themselves who feared being deported back to their home countries so the question that looms large is: What makes a person so fearful of being returned to their native countries that they speak their fear in an act of desperation that led to their deaths when the guards failed to open their cells? Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano once wrote, “Immigration is the failure of roots.” In other words, when those deeply rooted connections that are key to human flourishing have failed and life is no longer possible, one must leave—when our roots fail, immigration is no longer an option but an only recourse.
In 2009 Somali poet Warsan Shire visited an abandoned Somali Embassy in Rome which some young refugees had turned into their home. In an interview she gave she explained that the night before her visit a young Somali jumped to his death off the roof of that abandoned embassy. Shire explained that the death of this immigrant opened her eyes to the harsh reality of living as an undocumented refugee in Europe—a reality that is achingly commonplace along the U.S./Mexico border. Her poem “Home” gives voice to the despair of being undocumented, to this failure of roots that offers no options, to the harsh reality of not only being unwanted but also criminalized, to that moment when death seems to envelope life. Shire’s poem begins with these powerful and moving images,
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well
In the midst of so much hate filled speech against immigrants, against those that we have been taught to fear as criminals because they are said to threaten our future, we forget that as a nation that claims a Christian heritage and identity Holy Week does not end at Golgotha where the Roman Empire “wins” but in the empty tomb on Easter morn. We forget that love and hope are core to the Christian story. We forget that “…for God so loved the world…” God loved the world. God loves the world—no one is left out.
As the HSP community celebrates Holy Week and as we move into the hope that looms beyond the cross, we lift our voices and call the names of those who died in that immigration center on March 28. We lift our voices for those who die every day trying to cross into the U.S. because for these immigrants “home is the mouth of a shark.” We lift our voices in a plea for immigration law reform. We lift our voices and call those who will fill pulpits across this country on Easter morning and remind them that as they speak to their congregations that they also remember that God’s love does not require citizenship and that fear and hate and criminalization of the immigrant will not solve our economic problems. We lift our voices to remind our nation that fear and hate are born of darkness and the Christian community is called to the light of hope and transformation that is central to the Easter message.
Wherever you live, whether across from the U.S./Mexico border or in a large urban city thousands of miles from the border, remember that to migrate is a very difficult and frightening decision that is not easily made. Remember that in making that decision to leave home, as these immigrants cross borders they are transformed into the most vulnerable, those Jesus described as “the least of these” who need our compassion, who need our protection, who need our welcome. Immigration is the failure of roots and as Warsan Shire reminds us,
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
your survival is more important
The hope of Easter is rooted in love and compassion born of transformation. “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!” (Luke 24:5,6) Risen indeed! No longer will the darkness of death with its inherent fear and isolation have the final word—for God so loved the world and in that love there is a place for everyone, a welcome for everyone.
Rev. Dr. Daisy L. Machado