Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Sligo
- The message Moses brought to Pharaoh, in God’s name, was very simple and very direct: “Let my people go!” It is the same whenever an individual person, or a community or a whole people is oppressed, simply because they are different. God sees. He sees the image of himself in those people and he says: “Let my people go!”
- People sometimes speak about Christianity as if it were simply a moral code. It is much more than that. It is a relationship. Jesus himself is “the Way” and that, in a sense, is the difference between religion and faith.
When I was small, I had a budgie called George. My father explained that, if I was letting him out of the cage, I would need to keep the windows closed. If he once got out into the garden, the other birds would attack him because he was different. That made me sad.
We read in the Book of Genesis: “God created man in the image of himself, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them”. For all our differences, we have this one thing in common, we are created in the image of God, made for relationship with him. We may sometimes struggle with the differences, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem for God, who loves us all equally.
Towards the end of the Book of Genesis, we read that the sons of Jacob went down to Egypt with their families and their sheep, because there was a famine in their own land. They were well received. They worked hard, and they built relationships. But they were different. As time went on, people began to resent them. They were subjected to forced labour and became victims of what would, these days, be described as ethnic cleansing. God saw the oppression of his people and he sent Moses to lead them out. That is the background to our second reading this evening. While the selection of readings for the vigil can change a bit from year to year, this reading is always used, because the freedom of God’s people is the whole meaning of Easter.
History has a way of repeating itself. Sometimes we are so busy holding enquiries into the mistakes of the past that we don’t even notice that we are making the same or similar mistakes ourselves. It is useful for us to understand the historical background to Scripture, but it is just as important to read it and to be challenged by it in the context of our own lives and what is going on in our own society.
The message Moses brought to Pharaoh, in God’s name, was very simple and very direct: “Let my people go!” It is the same whenever an individual person, or a community or a whole people is oppressed, simply because they are different. God sees. He sees the image of himself in those people and he says: “Let my people go!” He is a God of compassion; a God who saves.
Moses stepped out of his comfort zone to stand in solidarity with his people. He was well established in Egypt. Though he was a Hebrew, he was acknowledged as an adopted member of the royal family. He could have closed his eyes to what was happening to his own people, but he didn’t. In that way, he reflected the justice of God in his own life. How is God asking us, today, to do likewise, in the circumstances of our own lives?
On a global scale, the exodus of the Hebrew slaves is well reflected in the experience of millions of Ukrainian refugees. In their case, “Let my people go” only works if they have somewhere to go where they will be welcome and where they will be safe. We are trying to respond to that challenge as generously as possible, and it is important both for us and for them to know that we are in it for the long haul.
In our own society too, it must be acknowledged that there are minority groups who are at risk of being oppressed because they are different. Representatives of the travelling community have told me recently that, while they are part of the Church, they don’t always feel accepted by the settled community. They feel that they are often “lumped together” as if they were all the same.
We have all been badly shaken in recent days by a number of violent attacks in Sligo, resulting in the deaths of two men who were our neighbours and, for some of us, friends and colleagues. Each of them, in different ways, served his community well. Each one was a much loved son and brother and uncle. If, as seems possible, they were targeted because of their sexuality, we have to say once and for all that this is unjustifiable and unacceptable. It is something that we as Christians can never condone . People who identify as LGBTI should not have to live in fear any more than anybody else.
I understand that, in the past few days, there have been some acts of vandalism on properties associated with the Islamic community. To lay the blame for recent events on a whole community, who have done nothing to deserve it, might suit the racist and sectarian agenda of some among us, but it would be totally unjustifiable. That would be simply another form of oppression, based on people being easily identifiable as “different”. It would be a failure to recognise our shared humanity and the fact that Islamic people, no less than the rest of us, are created in the image of God.
Like Moses, Jesus identified with those who lived on the margins. He ate with sinners; He stopped to talk with lepers and healed them. He visited the homes of pagans. He challenged sinful attitudes and patterns of behaviour wherever he saw them, but he also gave people the love that helped them to grow and to change.
Meanwhile, Jesus challenged the smug, self-righteousness attitudes of people who thought they were better than everyone else. This was the Son of God, but He was also one of us. As the Son of God he bears witness in his own life to the mercy and compassion of God. As a member of the human race, he shows us what we can be at our best.
The death of Jesus was not simply a physical death, but a dying to self so that he might live for others. His Resurrection is simply the logical conclusion of his relationship with God and of the way he lived his life. Relationship is the key. For Jesus himself, His relationship with the Father was essential to his whole understanding of himself and his mission.
People sometimes speak about Christianity as if it were simply a moral code. It is much more than that. It is a relationship. Jesus himself is “the Way” and that, in a sense, is the difference between religion and faith. As Christians we are drawn into that relationship, through water and the Holy Spirit, in the Sacrament of Baptism. It is a kind of new Exodus, when, as disciples of Jesus, we are set free from all the negativity of sin, to live in a completely new way, by the power of God’s Spirit. Baptism is the source of Eternal Life in us. It is the beginning of a relationship that inspires the gift of self, in imitation of Jesus. As Saint Paul says, in our New Testament reading, “if in union with Christ we have imitated his death, we shall also imitate him in his resurrection”.
That is why Easter has always been associated with Baptism and it is why, this evening, even though we have no Baptism to celebrate, we bless the water and, with thankful hearts, renew the promises of our own Baptism. Perhaps, in future years, inspired by a renewed relationship with Jesus, we may also be better able to lead others to faith in him.
- Bishop Kevin Doran is the Bishop of Elphin.
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