This year I celebrated my birthday on the same day as Silvia*, a woman staying in our shelter in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. When I arrived at the shelter, the walls and windows were adorned with decorations, signs, and balloons. Sister Alicia, our shelter director, distributed bottles of Coca Cola and a large chocolate cake to share. Together with the other women and children, as well as a group visiting from California, we sang, laughed, played games, and gave each other birthday hugs.
Yet as I sat with her, eating our birthday cake, she spoke of the pain she carried with her. Of the fear and suffering in Honduras that she and her family fled. She shared about her daughter going into labor while journeying through Mexico, two months early. Her daughter was kicked out of the hospital shortly after giving birth and long before she was able to regain strength for the journey.
The tension of celebration and agony that Silvia and I shared is the space that we occupy on Palm Sunday. The people of Jerusalem hail Jesus and celebrate God’s glory, while the Pharisees resist and, in the background, plot his downfall.
We begin the service waving palms in celebration, but we can’t forget the great suffering of the Passion that is to come.
At the same time, before the suffering of Good Friday, Christ and the disciples are grounded in the Palm Sunday celebration of God’s glory. Because while we live in the tension of good and evil on Palm Sunday, and while we continue in that tension in our current reality, we are propelled by the promise that God’s love, life, and light hold more power than the darkness. The community of the shelter helped Silvia break through darkness and hold a moment of light. So too let us be community to others and declare a joy that acknowledges suffering but is not resigned to it.
*Name changed to protect privacy
Joanna Williams has served at the Kino Border Initiative (KBI) since 2015. She was named the executive director in March of 2021 and before that worked as the director of education and advocacy for six years. She graduated with a B.S. from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and received a Master’s in Public Policy from Arizona State University.