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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Daniel

Liturgy and Immigration, Part II

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (BCP 100).

As noted in Part I, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi is another way of saying that every human movement, to greater and lesser degrees, wittingly or unwittingly, is a response to divine agency in the world. The artist who creates beautiful works of art participates in the beauty inherent in creation, to which the artist calls attention by attending to beauty in creation through her creative labors. On the other side, the corporation that cuts benefits for employees to maximize profit margins for shareholders, at the expense of employees and families, averts attention away from the beauty of human relationships and what it means to be a neighbor. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi hereby invites us to examine how our movements and decisions participate in or negate the activity of God in the world. As it regards the matter of immigration, the question I am raising is a spiritual one: what is the connection between a person’s activities and their expressed beliefs—a person’s political concerns about immigration and the form by which they inhabit the earth? (This is by no means limited to immigration. We could ask the same question with regard to farming practices, medical practices, etc. This, however, is a post about immigration.)

Many who express a deep conviction that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life—a rather totalizing claim, often defer to the state regarding matters of immigration, human rights, economic practices, etc. My curiosity, here, is the relationship between movement and belief, and what enables one devotee of Christ to imagine the immigrant as someone to befriend, while another sees the immigrant as one against whom to defend.

Similar to its divisiveness in American politics, immigration is no less divisive among Christians, perhaps even more so. And it does seem to be a matter of one’s primary allegiance (Acts 4). It has to do with relationships, and specifically with what mediates our relationships. Are we, following the wisdom of the earliest followers of Christ, united uniquely to God as imago Dei and thereby intimately related to others and the whole of creation, or are we united primarily by our biology, economics, or political regimes? In this age of new nationalism(s), the nation-state is increasingly taken as precedent for human relationships, construing human relationships as first and foremost a matter of citizenry. A person’s relationship is hereby to the state, which relates a person to other citizens, with consequences for how a person relates to non-citizens.

The citizenry of the nation-state attempts to displace the primary relationship of persons that begins with human nature in God, a nature shared with the Second Person of the Trinity—Christ. The state, assuming a self-appointed divine role, exercises its worldly power to separate family members from each other if someone in the family is not a citizen, whether there is supporting cause or not. Deporting non-citizens, especially those who are parents of children, which attempts to sever the familial bond, happens in the name of homeland security—in the name of freedom for a nation’s citizens, freeing the citizen-child from the bond of the non-citizen parent. We fear the stranger, so we isolate her, so as not to mistake her as human—as one of us.

From whence comes this terror? It is a fear of the stranger birthed out of selfish habituation in an economic rule of law. The economics of greed, however, requires the stranger to serve as society’s sacrificial lamb. The immigrant is become for us the scapegoat who bears our suffering and shame, even unto death, so that we may continue in the cause of individual freedom for the “elect.” The immigrant is feared in the same way that Jesus was feared by Rome: the immigrant’s personhood is derived not from the rule of law but from her nature as human, an image of the invisible God. The state fears all who need not its approval.

Crossing borders is a liturgical act. The world desires a God who does not cross borders. The world wants God to retain a chasm between the celestial and the temporal. Yet the God who has come in Christ is the God who descends into the caverns of hell, shattering its gates for the dead to roam free. This God ascends to heaven, transcending—materially—the boundaries of the flesh. And the liturgical act of making Eucharist is an eternal and anamnetic act that unravels all false notions of human nature as separable from the human nature of Christ. And whether nation-states continue to create false divisions between humans through border patrol or other means of force, it remains the responsibility of Christians to bear witness to the God who in Jesus of Nazareth has established the whole of humanity as his body in the world.

In effect, to deny our common human nature with immigrants—with all humans throughout the world—is to deny the Incarnation. As with all bad forms of Christology, it denies the principle of human nature as intimately bound up together with the creative and redeeming work of God in Christ, deistically reducing human nature to an accidental relation of individual choice or preference, rather than bearing witness to the universalizing implications of Jesus' particular human nature as completing the whole of human nature. Immigration is a liturgical matter, because it is a Christological one, which involves gathering “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” all of humanity into a new citizenry bound by the blood of the Lamb, who continually proclaim, with the humility of a people redeemed by the grace of the unconfused union of divine and human natures in Christ that, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7.9-10)!

The posture that complicates one's ability to perceive the stranger as a brother or sister adopted by Christ, for us to live as his body in the world, seems to be the all too human fear of death. Turning to the nation-state as savior, which provides a (false) sense of security and protection against the unknowns, we exchange our treasure in heaven for the seeming predictability of mortality. The temptation is the same faced by Christ atop the mountain when the tempter offered Jesus all the securities and splendor of the world (Matthew 4). And the liturgical response Jesus offers is simple: "Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him" (Matthew 4.10b).

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