Bishop Guli Francis- Dehqani (i), in her recent contribution to the Lent talks on BBC Sounds (ii), has a stunning devotional and pastoral application to her reflection on identity and community within the context of a detail, recorded in the gospels, of the Passion of Jesus. Noting the very intimate exchange of conversation between Jesus, his mother, Mary and the disciple John, she suggests that, in giving a mother to John and a son to his mother, Jesus “releases Mary and John from the tight hold of that which has been familiar and safe…lightens the weight of their histories and eases the stranglehold of the stories that have brought them to this place…”
I see in this handover of Mary and John to each other the kernel of the new community – later to be known as the church – gathered around the broken and yet life-giving body of Christ. No longer defined by our pasts ( for those who have journeyed out of Islam), nor locked into our individualism (those who come from non-collective societies); we both find a new, secure place of belonging and connectedness within the church family. Our primary identity becomes that of being ‘in Christ’ and then, in relationship with each other as church community. And so, as we discover our purpose in God’s plan, together, we find a new freedom in exploring what it is to become the corporate expression of God’s new creation on earth.
I find it interesting that this exchange, referred to in John’s gospel, was played out at the foot of the cross, in a place of suffering, self-giving and loss. What are some of the culturally laden Christian traditions some of us love so well but may need to be shed? Are there fresh ways of marking our identity which we could imbue with new meaning? What will need to be sacrificed in terms of programme in order to spend more time nurturing the community?
As the western church welcomes increasing numbers of new believers from a Muslim background there is great joy and a rising hope that others will follow. But a wrestling with what it means to welcome, mentor into active discipleship and fully embrace the contribution Believers from a Muslim Background have to offer must be an inevitable part of the task of building this new community of belonging.
Written by Miriam Williams
i. Bishop of Loughborough. ii. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m000h1mv April 8th 2020