Easter stories in the Christian tradition urge us to reflect on home and homelessness, writes ANDY HAMILTON SJ.
In Australia, Easter is a time for celebration: for eating, drinking, meeting and relaxing. This year it sits uneasily with the world context: people fleeing bombings in Syria, wandering through other countries, languishing on Nauru and Manus Island and displaced by natural disasters associated with global warming. All are homeless. And last week marked Youth Homelessness Day.
But in the Christian tradition, which is part of the inheritance of Jesuit Social Services, the Easter stories encourage reflection on home and homelessness. For some of us these stories make a claim on us through our faith; others of us will see them simply as stories. But what they say about human lives is worth musing on.
The Easter stories begin with people grieving for Jesus. When we are in grief we are made homeless. Our loss turns our physical home into a mere house. The connections between the house and the person whom we have loved no longer ground and reassure us. They torment us. We feel alone in a world without walls or roof, where the wind blows cold and the rain pours in.
That is what grief does. It is also what homelessness does to children and refugees. it robs their present of meaning, their future of hope and their relationships of constancy. Homelessness is no place for people to live in, especially children.
The stories of Jesus’ death explore homelessness. As it is for all of us his home was his body. It was lived in, fed, cared for, hospitable to friends and formidable to enemies. His body was the place where dreams were nurtured, life’s projects planned and personality displayed. It was the monument by which he would be remembered. The Roman occupiers did their best to ensure that his body was forgotten. They did a demolition job on it, making sure that everyone saw it marked with whips, thorns, nails, blood and dirt and put on display like a side of beef in a butcher shop. His memory was to be a home for no one.
In the stories his friends’ homelessness was compounded by the disappearance of his body. It thwarted their desire to wash and lay it out so that they could remember him. Their last contact with him was cut. They shared momentarily the terrible suffering of those whose children have been killed but whose bodies are not to be found. They have no closure, we say. But in reality they have no opening – the door of their home is padlocked.
This is also true of young people and refugees made homeless. They lose their bodies: their dreams, their security, their self-respect, their connections and their address. They are vulnerable, constantly at risk of intrusion and exclusion. Their heads drop, their shoulders sag, their faces pale and their skin roughens. Homelessness is no place for children. Nor for adults.
The Gospel stories do not end with homelessness. They are about rebuilding body and home. They remake connections in which memories turn from absence to presence, from devastation to joy. They are about shared meals by the shore, about touching wounds in consolation, not in revulsion, about angels and not ghosts waiting in tombs, about embracing, about gathering. They are about a hope that is not limited by locked doors and walls or by the intractability of the body.
Nor should anyone’s story end in homelessness. It is the responsibility of society to find people a home in which they can be safe to make connections, see possibilities, heal their wounds and allow others to touch them in love, share food and stories. These are the things that make the stuff of bodies solid and luminescent and make people feel at home
Any time is a good time to find homes for refugees, displaced people and especially for children. Easter time is the right time to hold them in our heart.