Jamie Pitts is an assistant professor of Anabaptist Studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and a member of Hively Avenue Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind.
Photo: A headstone in the desert. Photo provided.
Near the end of the Book of Revelation, an angel says to John, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the
Lamb.” The angel then takes him “in the Spirit” to see “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.”
John describes in detail the city’s high walls and its 12 gates, each a “single pearl” guarded by angels and inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. The gates “will never be shut by day—and there will be no night” in the city. People whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life” will come through the gates, bringing to the city “the glory and the honor of the nations.” Unclean things and those who practice “abomination and falsehood” are prohibited from passing into the city, but the Spirit and the city itself call out to all who are thirsty to “come” and drink from the river of the water of life that runs through the city.
I thought about this passage during a recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border with Hively Avenue Mennonite Church and Southside Fellowship. A group of 11 of us from our two Elkhart, Ind., churches spent a week in Douglas, Ariz., and Agua Prieta, Sonora, learning about the difficult conditions facing migrants, as well as efforts to help change those conditions.
Similar to the new Jerusalem, the United States has constructed high walls and placed guards at its gates, gates that are open 24 hours a day. Only those may pass through the gates whose names are registered with the U.S. government, namely, citizens and foreign nationals with proper documentation. As we learned at the Border Patrol station, the guards work hard to keep out unclean things and people, especially drugs and the violent drug dealers they label “terrorists.”
The United States is not the new Jerusalem. It does not have the same entry requirements. The United States turns away or hunts down and expels from its interior ordinary folks looking to work and reunite with their families. Many of these people are faithful Christians. Regardless, they lack the proper documentation and so are unwelcome.
The United States is a secular nation-state.
It is the church, not the United States or any other nation-state, that has the task of living up to the standards of the new Jerusalem. The church is that community of thirsty people who respond to the Spirit and bride’s invitation to
come and drink the water of life. We are the servants who worship the Lamb seated in the throne of God. Our future city may have walls that keep out the “unclean,” but the basis for inclusion has nothing to do with “race and color, class and gender,” as the hymn goes. Neither is nationality a consideration. Indeed,
the leaves of the trees growing on the banks of the river of the water of life are for the “healing of the nations.”
At the border we encountered Christians who, as an act of worship, extend radical hospitality to migrants in difficult situations. Many we met are migrants themselves. These include people such as:
- Jack and Linda Knox, who host all comers at the Shalom House free of charge;
- staff and patients at the drug and alcohol rehabilitation center CRREDA, who fill the water
jugs in the Sonoran desert for thirsty migrants;
- Brenda, the U.S. director of the Migrant Resource Center, who gives recently deported migrants food, shelter and bus tickets back home;
- the farmers and cooks at the DouglaPrieta Trabaja community garden, who grow their own healthy food and seek to give area youth an alternative to joining the cartels or leaving Mexico;
- the staff at the Café Justo coffee cooperative, which makes it possible for coffee growers in Chiapas to make a decent living and engages youth;
- and Mark, the U.S. director of Frontera de Cristo, which supports and partners with many of the other groups and runs the powerful vigil for migrants who died crossing the border.
These people and organizations show that another city is possible, a city whose borders are not death dealing and unjust, a city open to all who are thirsty, a city whose vitality heals the nations. That city is possible, and it is coming. Let us hear the invitation of Spirit and the bride, and let us come.