The Easter story is simple and straightforward: God in Christ became a human being and died for our sins. However, it does not stop there. The story goes on to celebrate Christ’s resurrection and finally His return to Heaven. Easter, in one sense, is the other side or other end of the Christmas story. Christmas reminds us that God became a Man; the apostle John communicates that truth by asserting that ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us’. But is that all there is to the story? What about all that happened in between? What about homelessness? Do Christmas and, particularly at this time of year, Easter have anything to say to us about homelessness? I think they do.
I recently had lunch with Mark Brennan from Housing Justice. It is a small organisation with very few staff that is seeking to be both a prophetic voice and cutting edge practitioners on the matter of housing and homelessness in London and beyond. It is surprising what they continue to achieve on a small budget, possessing sheer determination to be the difference.
It was while speaking with the Housing Justice team in their offices in London Bridge that I began to join the dots and intentionally connect the theme of homelessness to so many stories in the Bible and, ultimately, to Christ Himself, who was homeless multiple times over (see below). My mind was drawn to the many homeless, marginalised and dislocated individuals that Christ encountered in His earthly ministry – a ministry that ultimately led to His death.
I have never asked any questions – or even made the observation – that the gentleman in John chapter five, who gathered with ‘a great number of disabled people (the blind, lame and the paralysed ) may have been so ‘invisible’ that he was considered either unfit or unable to inhabit a physical dwelling. I began to wonder that perhaps this was in fact his home, where he lived! Perhaps he was actually homeless, and had forged out an existence and located himself – or, rather, society had passively located him – within a community of the gathered homeless ‘other’. A similar question could be asked of the gentleman, who received his healing from Peter and John at the temple gate called Beautiful in Acts 3, or of the demon-possessed man, of whom Dr Luke skilfully offers a penetrating snapshot into his present state. It is easy to only focus on the fact that he was demon-possessed, and celebrate Christ’s power to deliver. Hallelujah! But hold on, where was he now going to live? Luke tells us that ‘for some time he had not lived in a house, but had lived in tombs’ (Luke 8:25b). He was homeless and it had deeply affected, even altered, his perception of himself, of others and them of him! Does this sound familiar and reminiscent of what we see on the streets of our civilised society?
Perhaps these examples are not enough to sufficiently move us through what David Mann highlights as the three stages he observed in individuals seeking to come to terms with the global AIDS epidemic: denial, minimisation and engagement. I can understand that. However, what about this: me simply reminding you that Jesus Christ Himself was homeless. I guess that now it matters! If Jesus was homeless, then perhaps we ought to pay some attention to the level of homelessness in our world.
Earlier, I referred to the fact that Jesus was homeless multiple times over: relational homelessness (‘separated’ from His Father), spatial homelessness (‘dislocated’ from Heaven) and physical homelessness (‘without a place to live’ and call ‘His own’).
As my conversation continued with the Housing Justice team, I was struck by the fact that God organised time and space in such a way that homelessness would be a feature and characteristic of the life of Christ from the outset. He would be born in a manger, and would have no place to lay His head (being dependent on others for accommodation and shelter, Luke 9:58). I have never once asked myself where Jesus lived, whether He ‘owned’ a property or had tenancy of one – even in the loosest sense. Such has been the focus of my reading of Scripture that my preoccupation has unhelpfully and disproportionately been focused on His earthly ministry, but not on His earthly needs! It’s easily done.
So how does all this fit together with Easter? Well, if Christmas is the time of year that we show kindness to others, because of the gift of God to humanity in Christ, then Easter is the time we crucify and die to our preoccupation with our own needs; recognise the needs of others, and give ourselves in service to them as a sacrificial act. It means dying to our own interests, needs, wants and desires, and assessing how our actions impact other people around us. It is a hard call and an arduous task. We need God’s grace for it, but then that is what Easter is all about: God’s grace to us.
Have a Happy Easter and God bless.