“Welcome home,” warm embraces greeted us as we stepped from the van in Cuernavaca, Mexico. “Welcome home,” first one sister and then another said, and soon the parking lot was a tangle of people admid piles of luggage.
Odd, I thought. Surely they are missing preposition and possessive — “Welcome to our home.”
“Who is Carol?” one sister asked, and after identifying myself, I scurried after her to the place 1 was to stay. The room was sparse. A bed, desk, and small table. And on the table, flowers and a small decorated card with the words “welcome home.”
Evening prayer that night was mostly in English. The supper was one familiar to North Americans. After supper we introduced ourselves, and the work¬ shop/retreat activities were explained. Not unlike other workshops/retreats previously attended — or so I thought. Still the words “welcome home” echoed in my mind.
Those words never left me.
“Welcome home.” They were there as we winded our way down a steep ravine where the sisters had helped to form a basic ecclesial community among the poor. They were there when we stopped at one home — iron stove, table, and chairs on a small porch, water brought over in buckets from a neighbor. An older woman, sharing a picture from her past, telling stories (translated by the sister from Spanish to English), and apologizing that she had nothing to offer us. “Welcome home.” The words came to mind in the market place where I truly began to feel more at home. “Welcome home,” but still the sights, sounds, and smells were unfamiliar.
“Welcome home.” Sunday morning. Turkeys raced about the yard. Burros were munching nonchalantly. Small children dashed about. The church, open on two sides, palm leaves cover¬ ing the roof, rough benches. An altar with a white cloth, flowers brought from gardens, and a large wooden crucifix
The service is in Spanish. The priest speaks. The people respond. A dialogue sermon. A challenge to the people, to us, to make today’s gospel alive in our own experience. Blessed bread and broken. Bread shared. Despite barriers of language, economic status, nationality, a glimpse perhaps of — home?
Tuesday. Still the words haunted me. The gate swung open. Again we piled out of hot, stuffy cars into the noonday sun. Two very small boys with a very large wash basin full of cooked beans came toward us. “Welcome home,” and the words spoken by another small Mexican boy, “You are my brother,” flashed through my mind. And then the image of Alfredo, a badly burned Mexican boy, a boy with no family and no home. A boy from a film on baptism. A film about belonging and acceptance.
And there, at that orphanage, I knew I was home. I was home with my brothers and sisters from North America. I was home with the Benedictine sisters who had so graciously invited us there. I was home with the poor of the ravine, with the women of the cooperative, with the people of the market place, i was home with the refugees from Guatemala. I was home with all people everywhere who struggle for justice and peace.
Someone said to me, “You spend too much time talking about suffering and death when you celebrate the Eucharist. When we celebrate, we begin with the resurrection, with the story of the road to Emmaus.” And as he spoke, I looked over to the new “squatters” colony on the far side of the ravine. Perhaps it would be easier to skip over Good Friday, I thought.
But to skip over Good Friday is to skip over life. It is to skip over orphans, refugees, people who have no homes, the hungry and oppressed peoples wherever they live. It is to skip over pain, darkness, despair, loneliness. It is to close our eyes to the reality of death.
“They will kill me,” said Archbishop Oscar Romero, “but I shall rise again in my people of El Salvador.” His death, Jesus’ death, was real, and following death — pain and confusion.
“Welcome home.” Words spoken. A card by the bedside. The sign on the cross. This week, Holy Week, the journey, our journey, to Jerusalem has ended. We have come home. Home. To embrace suffering and pain, to be misunderstood, stripped naked of illusions, pre-conceptions, delusions. To accept death in whatever form, or forms it comes to us. To pass through the agony of the garden, an agony which sweats great drops of blood. To say finally, “not my will, but yours be done.”
Yet the story has not ended. Out of death comes new creation. A new day, alive with life, alive with promise. New communities formed, new relationships made, and a new kingdom of justice open to all. A kingdom where all will be embraced — where life is shared to the fullest extent possible. The kingdom we pray for, the kingdom we work for, the kingdom proclaimed each Sunday, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” “Welcome home.”
The Rev. Carol Ludden ministers in downtown Seattle at the Pike Place Market Ministry