Mine is not the sort of faith that credits divine providence for the goings-on in the world. But even I can’t avoid the striking coincidence that the Supreme Court this week takes up a watershed civil rights case, “Arizona v. United States,” so soon after many Christians recall “the road to Emmaus” as part of Easter.
This scene in Luke - where, en route to Emmaus, Cleopas and his friend encounter a stranger they later discover was Jesus - is so well-worn that “the road to Emmaus” has become a shorthand that elicits knowing “mmm…hmms” from the faithful when used as a catch-phrase for the mysteriousness of Christ’s presence in the journey called life.
It’s a hard journey, the one to Emmaus from Jerusalem. Seven miles may seem nothing at all, but, if you’ve been to the Middle East, you know that any journey’s length in that part of the world is no Sunday stroll.
Nevertheless, once Cleopas and his friend recognize Jesus, they rush back to Jerusalem to proclaim that Christ has indeed risen from the dead, knowing they’ll likely be put to death. Having been taught and fed by Jesus himself, and so filled with grace and hope, they risk another journey.
It is on this hard road that Christians embark on their liturgical Easter journey. The journey of Lent ends only to begin Easter with yet another travel tale. For the Christian, faith is nothing if not a journey. It’s a tradition best summarized as ancient travelogue, one whose central narrative is of migration flows patterned by routes in search of the sacred and in escape from slavery and persecution.
For early followers of Jesus, the Easter journey often ended in imprisonment or martyrdom.
Today, contemporary Cleopases and thousands of unnamed friends flee across deserts many miles longer than seven. Their stories are echoed in “Arizona v. United States,” the case against Arizona’s shocking anti-immigrant legislation, SB 1070, that the nine Supreme Court Justices will hear this week.
I fear that many of us are no longer accustomed to a faith made apparent by well-worn shoes.
The way that SB 1070 undermines family unity, human rights, and dignity is evidence that many of us have hiking boots, yet to be broken in, gathering dust in our closets. For, it also echoes long-ago eras of persecution.
With SB 1070 in the headlines, faith leaders of all kinds have offered their take on how America should treat immigrants. Some of their offerings might lead one to believe that Christian theology is isolationist, individualistic, fear-driven.
But Easter and its Emmaus road clearly point toward a different path: journeys of hopeful risk.
Starting with the Supreme Court’s ruling on SB 1070, we have an opportunity to take America down this different road. It will take a pilgrimage larger than Lourdes to move our treatment of migrants away from extreme state laws and towards what’s really needed - fair and comprehensive immigration reform.
But, just as the Christian movement itself started with only twelve pairs of dusty sandals, so, too, can this much-needed movement start with a few feet. All we really need this week is five pair of shoes to lead the way. Nine would be best.
Stacy Martin is Vice President for Mission Advancement at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.