I hold up three themes, images and challenges for reflection as we give attention to the plight of people who find themselves uprooted from their homes owing to war, persecution, poverty or climate degradation and calamities.
BE HUMAN, LOVE THE STRANGER, AND CALL OTHERS TO DO SO:
Figure 1: Mother and Child by Francesco Piobicchi, published on Francesco’s blog, disegnidallafrontiera, and used with permission.
The Image here is from Lampedusa. It is drawn by the Italian Artist Francesco Piobicchi who works there with an Ecumenical Church programme called Mediterranean Hope. It is a mother and child.
Lampedusa is a small Italian Island in the Mediterranean. It is the first piece of rock that many refugees land on.
In October 2013 nearly 400 refugees drowned here when their fragile vessel capsized and Francesco draws actual events, to provoke discussion.
The woman and child in this image drowned in the sea. The woman gave birth to her baby as she drowned. They were both lifted from the sea. The baby was still attached to her mother by the umbilical cord.
The Bible insists that we are all made In the Image of God and contains the command to “love your neighbour, as yourself”.
But no less than 37 times the Hebrew Scriptures challenge people “love the stranger”. There is no other ethical requirement repeated so often.
According to the Bible we encounter God, the Image of God in the face of the stranger.
Jesus said that his followers will see his face and serve him in those considered to “the least important”. How do we treat the most marginalized people?
The followers of Jesus have no option but to love the stranger by sharing good hospitality.
BE HOSPITABLE, BUILD SANCTUARY:
Figure 2: City of Sanctuary Logo
Consider making your City, Town, Village, Church, School, University, Business a Sanctuary, a place of welcome, hospitality and safety.
The idea of Sanctuary is thousands of years old and rooted in the Bible with the concept of Cities of Refuge as set out in the Book of Numbers 35:6-34 [also Joshua 20:1-9; Deuteronomy 4:41-43].
I have used this idea to develop the movement known as City of Sanctuary. It progresses the idea to providing safety and hospitality to vulnerable people, for example – Asylum Seekers, children whose lives are in danger, victims of domestic abuse and older people who suffer indignity.
The Image above is the logo of City of Sanctuary, and symbolizes the ancient Celtic Proverb:
“It is in the shelter of each other that the people live”.
A few weeks ago Derby Cathedral was made the first 21st Century Cathedral of Sanctuary.
I’d like to see every Church, Synagogue, Mosque, Mandir and Gurdwara offering sanctuary, a safe space to hurting, vulnerable people, especially refugees.
There are excellent initiatives being taken by churches and church groups building welcome, hospitality and sanctuary alongside refugees today and some examples can be found on the City of Sanctuary website www.cityofsanctuary.org
Make your place of worship a sanctuary where all are treated with warm welcome, generous hospitality and protection from harm.
CHALLENGE HATRED, BUILD THE NEW WORLD ENVISAGED IN THE HOLY COMMUNION:
Figure 3: Rublev’s Trinity
The best Christian symbol of what I am holding up is the Sacrament of Holy Communion, a revelation of the world as it is meant to be, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, where all are welcome and valued equally, and where no one is excluded or made to feel like an outsider, a stranger.
Look at Rublev’s portrayal of the Holy Trinity which is well known.
We see here a community of humanity and hospitality.
No space for hatred and harm here.
A foretaste of the Heavenly Home and Banquet that God prepares for all people. God is the Host and all are welcome.
We are called to practice such hospitality on earth, modeling the hospitality of heaven. Holy Communion at its best reveals the new world we are called to build.
Building humanity and hospitality and challenging hatred by challenging inhumanity and inhospitality.
I conclude by commending the work of All We Can on refugees and the excellent resource they have produced on this theme.
It is called “To all the people we can” and provides worship materials, recipes and activities for Church groups. You can obtain it on www.allwecan.org.uk
My own resource Sanctuary for All offers material local house groups and study groups can use. It is suitable for Lent or Advent, and includes suggestions for worship and prayer. You can obtain this on www.inderjitbhogal.co.uk