Maundy Thursday, the Supreme Court, and Singing Out

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Stacy Martin is the Vice President for Mission Advancement at LIRS.

I write this during Holy Week  Maundy Thursday to be exact. The day on which Western Christians commemorate what is termed “the new commandment,” when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples asking, “Do you know what I have done to you?” However, although it’s called “the new commandment,” it wasn’t new. Jesus’ ministry was one of reminding people of an ancient call to the core of the Levitical code. A code built on the pillars of invitation and embrace  of the poor, the outcast, the stranger. It is a boundary-pushing ethic which errs on the side of inclusion rather than exclusion. Eliminating the cosmetic barriers of class, ethnicity, even religion, was older than the Book of Leviticus itself. It’s just that in our human frailty we had somehow forgotten and needed a refresher course.

And it seems that we keep on forgetting.

I’ve been told by as many clergy persons and congregants as those on the Hill that, because there is nothing more divisive than the topic of immigration, it’s a subject to be ignored, silenced, or best dealt with only through the prisms of economic warfare and national security. I suppose my inner-cynic would expect that from the Hill, where immigration has long been deemed the third rail of politics. But to hear in striking concert faith voices echo a chorus that has fallen equally prey to the same seductive narrative of exclusion in almost mythic proportion  is no less than disheartening. Especially now, when the status of immigrants in this country continues to spiral downward at an ever-increasing pace.

And yet, the hope that threads through the rhythm of Holy Week’s worship services has beaten a little stronger as of late. In dissonant antiphon to the now-common chorus of fear and exclusion, voices of faith are humming, once again, the ancient chorus of Leviticus’ hymn of inclusion and embrace.

Last week, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), in conjunction with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PC(USA)), among others, signed on to an amicus brief encouraging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down Arizona’s anti-immigrant state legislation, SB 1070. This is no small matter. None of these bodies routinely lend their names to amicus briefs. In fact, the event is so rare in the history of LIRS that institutional memory can’t recall when we last lent our name in such a way. But the call to end the almost habitual practice of excluding and demonizing newcomers was too compelling to continue to ignore.

Christian tradition notes that as Jesus and his disciples departed from their Passover celebration in the Upper Room, they sang a hymn. I imagine it was a hymn taken straight from the ancient text of Leviticus, a call to remember the ethic of eliminating boundaries. The song is not a new one, but it is a forgotten one. Last week, pianissimo voices took up its chorus once again by making strong public witness against the draconian provisions of Arizona’s state immigration legislation.

We need more voices. We need the volume to rise to double forte in order to drown out exclusion’s tune.

As Western Christendom enters its most sacred of celebrations this Sunday, it is my hope that the chorus Jesus reminded his followers to heed and to sing, the chorus that is still barely an audible murmur, will be enlivened by Easter’s lesson of promise and new life. This is not a Siren’s song nor is it the tune of a Pied Piper; it is a song that breathes life and hope and light into the dark crevices of fear and all the “-isms” of our day. It is a song that eliminates the exclusion so evident in legislation like Arizona’s SB 1070.

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