Introduction I have been exploring possible links between the lectionary readings for Sunday 21 June and Windrush Day, which is being celebrated on 22 June. In seeking to be faithful to both Biblical text and context, I will link two of the lectionary texts with Windrush Day, paying particular attention first to the place of national identity in relation to the story of dispute between Sarah and Hagar in Genesis 21:8-21 and second to the way that baptism, as an act of immersion in water, connects us to all who seek migration over water.
Observance of Windrush Day was introduced in the UK in 2018. It was on 22 June (1948) that several hundred people arrived from the Caribbean on board the HMS Empire Windrush to start a new life in Britain. Caribbean people who had served in the British armed forces were encouraged to come to Britain to work. More people followed. It is estimated that around 500,000 people living in the UK are part of the Windrush generation. Windrush Day celebrates these arrivals and seeks to honour the diverse contributions the Caribbean community has made to British society.
Like many migrant stories, those who arrived were full of hope. Over time, many faced racism and discrimination. Children were picked on at school and jobs were difficult to obtain. Hence Windrush Day can be broadened to include reflection on migrant journeys in general and what it means to be a hospitable community. As Professor Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts at the University of Glasgow argues, many countries have a hospitality crisis rather than a refugee crisis. This is an invitation to focus on what it means to be hosts, rather than guests. While this continues to focus attention on the already dominant cultures, it can invite learning, growth, and changes of behaviour.
The UK Government promised £500,000 per annum to groups and local authorities who want to celebrate Windrush Day and educate communities about the experiences of the Windrush generation. More information is available on https://www.windrushday.org.uk/
Prayer of Approach (using Genesis 21 and the question of Who is God?)
Hearing God help us hear what You hear. Speaking God, help us receive what You say. Eye-opening God help us see what You see.
Song, ‘There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy’ To listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJwfT3SY_PU
Prayer of Thanksgiving (drawing on Matthew 10:29-31)
God who cares Watching every sparrow Counts every hair on every head Names every refugee in every camp We gather knowing You are Watching us Counting us Naming us With that care, aware of Your attention We express our thanks
Prayer of Confession (using Genesis 21 and Romans 6)
God, in every other, If we’re honest, We see ourselves more clearly – Sometimes our warmth, Our welcome, our hospitality, our inclusion And for this we give You thanks, loving God. God, in every other, If we’re honest, We sometimes see ourselves more clearly – Our coldness Toward those different And in this we confess our sin, Our sense of superiority, Our desire for monochrome identity, those like us. God Help us accept Your welcome of us And of every other, In one shared body, as forgiven, baptised children. Amen.
Say the Lord’s Prayer…
Genesis 21: 8-21, Psalm 86: 1-10, 16-17, Romans 6: 1b-11. To read, follow: https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu//texts.php?id=147
The first reading is one of two accounts in Genesis of the departure of Hagar (Genesis 16:1-16; 21:8-21). Some scholars see this as a single event. Others see this as two distinct events.
In seeking to read considering Windrush, two commentators proved provocative.
Delores Williams offers a black womanist reading of Hagar, that she, like “many black women, goes into the wide world to make a living for herself and for her child, with only God by her side.” This reading provides dignity to Hagar, and to all those who experience injustice. Like Hagar, they can enact agency. They are not dependent on the existing familial systems of injustice. As they seek to make their way, they can expect to find God with them, attentive to all who cry for justice.
New Zealand biblical scholar, Judith McKinley, argues that the wilderness and ethnic dimensions of the text resonate strongly with our world today. Hence this text allows us to have sensitive conversations with people today who experience marginalisation, including through gender and ethnicity. To undertake such conversations, McKinley increases her empathy by exploring accounts in history in which women are marginalised. She does this by examining New Zealand mission history. Such an approach invites those of us working with the text in other contexts to explore our own histories.
The Psalm is a Song of David, often classified as individual lament. It has the pattern of Call for help (1-7) Confidence (8-11) Thanksgiving (12-13) Further prayer (14-17)
There is a rich and fascinating link with Genesis 21, particularly in verse 16, which refers to the need to save the child of your serving call. Applied to Hagar, the use of the word “your” is inclusive, weaving her as part of God’s family.
The words “be gracious to me” are used both in verse 3 and verse 16. It has echoes of the well-known Aaronic prayer from Numbers 6: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.” Words spoken to Moses, who experienced God in the desert, first in the burning bush experience and again in Exodus.
This invites the imagination, in which God of the desert appears not only to Moses, wanting to bless and be gracious, but also the desert appears to Hagar, equally wanting to bless and be gracious.
The temptation is to read the Romans text through individual eyes, with a focus on purely human-divine interactions. The challenge is to read this text in corporate and social terms. We can test our approach by asking, with John Ziesler, (Paul’s Letter to the Romans), is justification only about ‘being put right with God’ or is it equally about ‘entering the people of God’. (Ziesler, 18).
Romans 14:1-15:6 suggests that this book is about divisions between different ethnic groups. What role does baptism, as discussed in Romans 6:1b-11, play in overcoming division between groups and cultures with different ethnic and religious identity markers? To contemporise, what does baptism say about the place of migrants and refugees amongst the people of God?
Song, ‘This is my Father’s World’ To listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3-C4jp7BNw
The band U2 has in recent years drawn attention to how Europe might respond to migration. Consider, for example two songs from their most recent (and fourteenth) album, Songs of Experience. The album debuted at no 1 on the Billboard charts, making U2 the first music group to gain a no. 1 album in four consecutive decades.
In the midst of commercial success, U2 has continued to engage social issues, singing no to human evil in the world. Songs of Experience is no exception, as U2 engage the evils around the European refugee crisis.
Evil is a strong word. Yet the Scriptures are clear. The greatest of God’s commandments includes the loving of neighbour as yourself. Israel’s laws emerged from the Exodus experience, of being refugees, fleeing the tyranny of Empire in Egypt. As Israel in history experienced God’s protecting love as refugees, so now in everyday life humans should express God’s love, including to refugees. Any less is to deny the Commandments, downplay a heritage and diminish one’s future.
On Songs of Experience, U2 engage the evil of the refugee crisis in a mid-album bracket of two songs. A first song, Summer of Love, longs for flowers to grow amid “the rubble of Aleppo.” The hope, 50 years after a drug-fuelled, music-drenched Summer of Love in San Francisco, is for peace to descend on the West Coast of Syria in the Middle East. A second song is Red Flag Day. The title suggests a continuation of the beach vibe of Summer of Love, while the lyrics remain focused on the consequences of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, becoming rubble.
The civil war in Syria resulted in a refugee crisis. For more than 1 million people in 2015, this meant crossing the Mediterranean Sea, seeking safety in Europe. Deaths at sea rose to record levels, with more than 1,200 people drowning in the month of April 2015. And so in Red Flag Day, U2 address this evil: “Not even news today; So many lost in the sea.” This is evil-as-disinterest, as the lost and the least disappear from our 24-hour news cycle.
For U2, the response to this evil is located in one word. “The one word that the sea can’t say, Is no, no, no, no.” It is easy to imagine the impact of this line performed live, Bono holding a microphone out to an audience, inviting them to sing, “no, no, no, no.” It is a powerful lyric. Water, the sea over which refugees travel, can never speak. But humans can. Humans can sing that one word, “No.”
At the same time, having raised children, I am well aware of the limitations inherent in the simple word “No.” It is often the first word learnt by a child, easy on the lips of a two year old, teetering on a tantrum. So when U2 sing no, what exactly are they asking us as humans to do?
U2 conclude “Red Flag Day” with the provocative line “Baby let's get in the water.” It reminds me of the baptism of Jesus. It is the way Jesus begins ministry, by getting in the water.
So, is the refugee crisis in fact an invitation for the Church to sing “no”, to respond to evil by entering the waters of baptism? Physically, in entering the Jordan River, Jesus expresses His obedience to God. This makes getting in the water the essential pattern of Christian discipleship, a way of saying “No” to our own plans and a “Yes” to God’s intentions. Historically, as Israel crossed the Jordan River, they were saying “Yes” to living God’s commandments no matter what country they found themselves living. This makes baptism an expression of “Yes” to loving our neighbour. Sacramentally, baptism and communion are woven together in the Exodus story of the Passover, which involves Israel entering the waters of the Red Sea. This makes getting in the water an expression of solidarity with all those who decide to say “No” to persecution and tyranny, whether in fleeing Egypt in history or the rubble of Aleppo today.
Hearing U2’s “Red Flag Day” and listening to the Gospel story of Jesus’ baptism offers ways to respond to the evil of refugee crisis. It fills the one word of “No” with Christian content. Every red flag swim in this summer of love becomes a singing of “no.” It means lobbying of Parliament to “Let them come.” It involves lighting candles as prayers of intercession for all those lost at sea, refusing to forget those forgotten by the news today. It means a welcome to the promised lands as we teach English classes and guide migrants around previously unfamiliar supermarket shopping.
Adapted from Steve Taylor, “Saying no: U2’s response to the evils of the refugee crisis.” Zadok 138 Autumn 2018, (4)
Prayer of Intercession (using John Holt, Stick by me, from The Tide is High, Anthology 1962-79 Trojan Records, 2001, to listen follow this link: https://youtu.be/dMVmPqmrCzY (just right click and left click,’ Follow Hyperlink’ or paste into your browser and imagine God singing to Hagar and Ishmael)
“Stick by me, I'll stick by you When you cry, I cry, too, oh oh Stick by me and I'll stick by you Remember my heart and my love belong to you, oh oh Stick by me, I'll stick by you”
We pray: Lullaby God, We hear You soothe in the desert Singing to a crying child – Ishmael, Isaac climbing Mt Moriah and the Exodus children facing the Red Sea We hear Your comfort, Don’t be afraid, When you cry, I cry too Stick by me, I’ll stick by you Lamenting God, We hear You sing in the wilderness Hope for a grieving mother – Hagar, Hannah, Elizabeth We hear Your peace, Don’t be afraid, When you cry, I cry too Stick by me, I’ll stick by you Serenading God of the Blues, who mourns in the wilderness For all families torn apart by bitterness, envy and strife When you cry, I cry too Remember my heart and my love belong to you, We hear Your heart, Don’t be afraid, No one can tear us apart Stick by me, I'll stick by you H Harmonizing God For all churches facing a hospitality crisis Help us hear Your melody, harmonize with Your desert lullaby, May we open our arms To all those estranged in our community You've got a place in our heart, oh yeah Stick by us, as we stick by You. Amen. “Stick by me, I'll stick by you When you cry, I cry, too, oh oh Stick by me and I'll stick by you Remember my heart and my love belong to you, oh oh Stick by me, I'll stick by you.”
Song, ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You’ To listen, follow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akT32E83zjI
With thanks to the Rev Dr Steve Taylor, Principal of the Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership in Dunedin, New Zealand.