I cycled over to the BBC in darkest North Oxford early on Sunday morning, only to discover that they had double booked. I guess the choice between me and the Executive Director of CMS was not a difficult one to make. Here’s what the great British public missed…
Entering strange cities on holiday is always a bit of a challenge. My wife always drives – she doesn’t trust me – and my job is navigating and shouting at the children! A few years ago driving into Avignon I got us lost, shouted that we had missed a turn and my wife reversed into a stationary car. Avignon lost some of its charm after that.
Being new in any city, any community can be frightening and disorientating. My heart goes out to some of the Syrian families who have joined us in Oxford, often after harrowing experiences. A lovely family I know in temporary accommodation in Oxford have been offered a house a few hundred metres from Brize Norton airbase despite the horrors they have lived through in Aleppo – thankfully there are people pleading their cause. But there are other new arrivals in our city and it is a challenge for them.
Today in the church calendar we mark Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus entered Jerusalem, a city he knew but which also contained people who did not wish to welcome him. How must he have felt knowing that this city was both a place of welcome but also a place of threat?
Questions of what it means to be a guest in a new community and what it means to be a host in a community lie at the heart of the Christian message. And when Jesus enters Jerusalem he is asking us to ponder those questions – and I am reminded of those lines from Matthews Gospel: I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.
I am grateful to be a resident of the city of Oxford, a city of welcome – but as we enter Holy Week I also want to ask myself, how much I can help make that welcome a reality. When guests come to our city, our village, our community or our home how do we welcome them? And how can we capture a vision of community which thrives on its diversity, its inclusion and the depth of its welcome?