What does Good Friday mean for a refugee?
'At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.'
300 bodies, anonymous and far from home, laid out in rows in a sports hall. Before migrant drownings in the Mediterranean became almost commonplace, that image really struck me and comes to mind today as I reflect on the cross.
Jesus on the cross demolishes the wall between us and God. Through him, we become citizens of the kingdom of God: the ultimate ‘durable solution’ if we articulate the gospel in refugee policy terms.
Yet this comes about in the most upside-down of ways as God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. Taken at face value, the cross was a failure; just another body, shamed and abandoned.
How many refugees, I wonder, would readily claim Jesus’ words of abandonment as their own? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Yet, at a time of definitive abandonment for Jesus, some people remained. Mary, Mary and Salome, and other women who had followed him and cared for his needs after he had welcomed and valued them, and Joseph who was waiting for the kingdom.
Who knows how much they really grasped that side of the cross, but they knew enough to be there and to align themselves with Jesus at his crucifixion, bestowing dignity on him in death as they had in life when they had clothed him and fed him.
Unlike them, we weren’t there in person and we can’t actually do these things for Jesus. But, as we reflect today on the cross - the means by which citizenship of the kingdom is bestowed on the undeserving likes of us - we can nevertheless heed Jesus’ call to do them for others.
Because the things we do for the least of these, including for those migrants dehumanised and ignored by our society, we do for him.
Emily Bowerman, Refugee Support Network, London