Jesus was an Alien, by Pastor Fred
We marched all the way to the White House for immigration reform. And – just like Cleopas and the unnamed disciple walking to Emmaus with Jesus – we wondered aloud if there was “anyone in town who doesn’t know about the deportations that have taken place?” I was there just last weekend.
It was a pensive, no-nonsense crowd. There were speeches, detailing the record number of deportations during the Obama administration, and how that not only hurts families by separating them needlessly from one another, but goes against the administration’s own policy to only deport criminals, and, ultimately hurts our economy, too.
During these very raw and heartfelt testimonies, there was a deliberate single drum-beat, hauntingly counting the 1,100 people that are deported – every day. The beat of the drum reminded me of the Native American Pow-Wow’s I used to attend in Michigan. The drum-beat, tribal leaders say, is the heartbeat of Mother Earth. And the 1,100 or more, of us, clapped along to its rhythm, as we stood witness to our sisters and brothers, who have been labeled, aliens and strangers.
Then the 12 brave volunteers who had planned to be arrested ahead of time, walked onto the sidewalk by the fence which surrounds the White House. That wrought-iron fence looks just like it does on the evening news, but in person, the White House looks much closer, even. The 12 sat down together and locked arms, and began chanting in English, and Spanish, “not one more!” and other chants, that all 1,100 of us joined in too, as we stood with them and bore witness.
It brought tears to many eyes, knowing that because of their status, at least half of them would probably be deported, after their arrest. But this was that important to them! Others, most recently Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck, have been arrested in solidarity with their parishioners being deported. But these six resident aliens – hard working, tax-paying, members of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, sitting arm in arm in front of the White House, who were not strangers to us – were making the ultimate sacrifice, and that was moving beyond words.
When Cleopas and the other disciple had lost all hope on the third day after the crucifixion, and were walking away from Jerusalem, giving up on Jesus, they have no idea it is he, who joined them on their hike back home. And so they ask him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” The word here translated as “stranger,” can also be, ‘alien,’ which might be more accurate, in this case. Their question assumes Jesus is not just a stranger on the street, but an alien from another land; someone who must have just arrived from some unknown far-away country! They sound a little angry at Jesus too, not knowing, of course, it’s him!
And in actuality, Jesus really is an alien, the one who came from above, born of the Spirit, as the angel Gabriel had announced to his mother Mary! His ancestors, notably Jacob, were called that name too – “a wandering Aramean was my ancestor.”
But later, when they urged him to stay with them, and their eyes were opened, and they recognized him in the breaking of the bread, he becomes their Messiah in a new way – their hoped for, redeemer of the world, after all.
A Pastor, who is a Lutheran, and a Hispanic, tells the story of baptizing adults in the river which ran by his church in town. As the candidates came up out of the water, he gave them all a baptismal certificate. And then they celebrated with a big fiesta! Others in town couldn’t help watching this very public, open-air event. But from a distance, they didn’t know it was a baptism! What they saw was some fellow Latina’s getting their papers! And so they thought they’d go to this church too. So on the next Sunday when they showed up, they were somewhat disappointed to find out the baptismal certificates were not green papers!
What they thought they had seen was not what they had hoped for; their eyes were kept from seeing. But it could turn out that such a baptismal certificate would also be a kind of liberation, as it is for any of us, freeing us by forgiveness, though it wouldn’t literally help anyone’s immigration status. So I guess you could say, There are aliens, and then there are aliens!
What kept Cleopas and the other disciple from recognizing Jesus initially was their dashed hope that he was the one to redeem, them, their faith community, and their country. They could only see his death as a sign of his failure at this. They could not imagine, even if he were to be raised, how that would change anything, for even when the women came back from the empty tomb with the message from the angels that he was alive, it was not enough to keep them from their dejected walk to Emmaus!
But Jesus tells them, “’Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
Resurrection is not just about wonderful, success-at-last, winning, especially winning at the expense of the other – the stranger, and the alien, whoever we designate to play that part – but it’s about conquering the never ending circle of our own self-justification and entitlement, violence and revenge. Jesus’ death and resurrection, his “suffering and glory,” show this once and for all. The way forward to new life, redeemed life, is the way of forgiveness. A way of recognizing that, the alien is really our sister and our brother, and perhaps even our savior.
In the breaking of the bread, just as Jesus did only days earlier at the Last Supper with all the disciples, Jesus offers his body and blood – his life – as a sacrament of forgiveness. He washes his own disciples’ feet as a sign of servanthood in the world, a gift and example of how we minister to one another.
We too lose hope that the world as it is, can be transformed into the world as it is supposed to be – redeemed and made whole. We hoped it might have been different for those 12 brave people who linked arms in front of the White House. That they would not be arrested or deported. But in them, we recognized the face of Jesus. In their suffering and sacrifice, we saw clearly the way the world is, and we knew, it is not the way God has ordained it to be, and made it for us. ‘Did not our hearts burn within us,’ while we witnessed their bravery? 1,100 deportations a day! And yet they remained resolute in the face of their suffering!
Around Christ’s table none of us is an alien or a stranger. For, we who share in the bread and the wine, are all born from above, by the Spirit, and recognize that in the face of every brother and sister here, is a creature of God. Here we join in the meal of forgiveness and remember that Jesus celebrated with all people, the rich and the poor, men and women, sinners and saints. Jesus was one to celebrate the liberation of all, with a foretaste of the feast of the way things should be, in the realm and kingdom of God, the world that the Messiah has already ushered in, and continues to redeem. Let us join in this joyful Fiesta!