Wet Clothes and Holy Lives

Among the pebbles, sand, and discarded soda bottles that you can find along most any river, on the Texas shore of the Rio Grande, clothes are left abandoned on the bank: dirty t-shirts, the worn-out elastic from tighty-whitey underwear, socks without partners. A plastic grocery bag of dry clothes is tightly bound to the ankle of an immigrant wading across by night, hoping for a new life. It’s a journey difficult beyond imagination. Under watch of the night vision Border Patrol cameras, and perhaps an expensive armed coyote, families fleeing bloodthirsty violence and generations of backbreaking poverty drop their soaking garments on the American side, starting a new life with fresh dry clothes.

In Revelation 7, we meet others who have fresh new clothes after much suffering, pain, and struggle. In a vision, a prophet named John sees people from every nation and race are around a throne, shouting with palm branches. “Who are these dressed in white?” an older man asks our narrator. These are ones who had experienced great suffering. Now they worship around a throne, with blood-bleached garments, with no more hunger or tears.

Revelation was written in an uncertain and violent time, when followers of Jesus were being arrested and killed simply for being followers of Jesus. This vision of abundant diversity celebrating around the throne is a promise of hope in the midst of suffering. This vision of transformed community is a sign of redemption in the midst of persecution and struggle.

All Saints Day is the time in which the Church remembers all of God’s people across time and space. In our Lutheran tradition, saints are redeemed sinners. Baptism reminds us of that identity. In remembering the saints, we remember the famous namesakes of church buildings and hospitals. Yet we also remember those whose names are forgotten by history, but remembered and beloved by God.

Our celebration of All Saints Day pushes us to recognize God’s presence in the lives of God’s people. The boy who left his wet t-shirt along the Rio Grande is a beloved child of God. The girl who abandoned her sock on the river bank is a beloved child of God. The mom who left her kids with a cousin in Honduras in order to find a new life in El Norte, away from the cartels and the gunshots, is a beloved child of God. The babyfaced coyote stealthily guiding groups of migrants around the checkpoints is a beloved child of God. The Border Patrol agent driving the hoverboat in the river, looking for folks wading across, is a beloved child of God.

The rocky shore with the crumbled-up clothes is holy ground. It’s not holy because it’s near a church or because visiting church groups read devotions about biblical images of immigration there. It’s holy ground because it marks where God’s people have suffered. It marks where there has been struggle. As Christian people who believe in the power of the cross and the promise of the resurrection, we see Christ present in the lives of those who suffer. These are God’s saints.