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'Get up and flee!' - The Flight to Egypt

Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir and the Jesuit Refugee Service Choir sing Gospel carols to reflect on the Biblical Flight to Egypt and the plight of refugees today.

It’s the dead of night and Joseph is lying asleep, his wife Mary and the infant Jesus are close by. He is disturbed by the arrival of an urgent message - “Get up, take your child and his mother, and flee”. They hastily pack what they can carry and run from the slaughter, heading to Egypt to escape the wrath of King Herod.

Sarah Teather and Fr. Dominic Robinson SJ explore this gruesome and terrifying epilogue to the Nativity story which sees the Holy Family flee from violence to a foreign land as refugees. They consider how this two thousand year old story is reflected in the lives of many refugees in the world today. They are joined at Farm Street Jesuit Church in Mayfair by Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir and the Jesuit Refugee Service Choir, singing Gospel songs and carols.

Go tell it on the mountain
Silent Night
Born to Die
Amazing Grace/I’m a believer
I need you to survive
Kwaze kwaze

Band Leader: Peter Yarde Martin
Directors of Music: Magda Supel and Miko Giedroyc

Producer: Katharine Longworth

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 30 Dec 2018 08:10


Please note:

This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.

It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.

BBC RADIO 4 and now time for Sunday Worship which comes from the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception, Farm Street in London with music from Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir and the JRS Refugee Choir . The service is led by Fr Dominic Robinson and the reflection is given by Sarah Teather who also introduces the service.

For the last three years and a half years, I have worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service, initially in areas of conflict in South Sudan and the Middle East, and more latterly here in the UK.
This time last year I had a conversation with a member of our refugee choir.  She was approaching a difficult personal anniversary and had been preoccupied by sadness. The opportunity to sing in a performance provided an unexpected moment of celebration, something she had longed for.  Her capacity to cherish the moment and give praise to God for its gift in a time of personal pain shook my own ingratitude to the core. 
Such conversations have given me a glimpse of grace in action.  And it is hard to escape the realisation that God seems to be doing something these refugees’ lives, something that doesn’t come so easily to those of us who live with more certainty and security.  Perhaps refugees who have walked the lonely journey of anxiety and struggle and learnt through it to lean on God, have something to teach us?

JRS REFUGEE CHOIR: MUSIC:  “I need you to survive”; by Juanita Bynum & Jonathan Butler; arr Magdalena Supel

The JRS Refugee Choir with “I need you to survive” - a piece which speaks of our interconnectedness as brothers and sisters in the same family
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
       R/  Amen. 
The Lord be with you.
       R/  And with your spirit. 
Welcome to this special Christmas service from Farm Street Jesuit Church in the heart of London. 
On this Sunday when, as Roman Catholics, we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, we take time to reflect more deeply on one aspect of the Christmas story: the Holy family’s flight into Egypt.  This story holds a particular significance for anyone who has been forced to flee their home to escape conflict or persecution, and so it is a pleasure to welcome in the congregation refugees and asylum seekers from the Jesuit Refugee Service who have been involved in crafting this service.  Our musicians today are our Gospel Choir, Soul Sanctuary, who will enliven our worship, along with the JRS Refugee Choir.  Sarah Teather, the Director of JRS in the UK, will give our reflection. Welcome to you all.
The Jesuit Refugee Service works with displaced people in 50 countries around the world, building relationships with refugees and helping them to negotiate the challenges they face on a daily basis. According to the UN Refugee Agency there are currently 68.5 Million forcibly displaced people worldwide – and this has implications for the global community.  In this context, issues of immigration and nationality are hotly debated. We don't want individuals to get lost in these debates. We see it as part of our calling as Christians to relieve suffering where we find it and show solidarity and love to our fellow human beings.

Let us pray:  O God, who was pleased to give us the shining example of the Holy Family, graciously grant that we may imitate them in practising the values of family life and in the bonds of charity.  Help us to share in the grief and anguish of the Blessed Virgin Mary our mother and Blessed Joseph her spouse, during the flight into Egypt and their sojourn there.  Obtain for us the virtue of generosity, especially toward the poor and the destitute, and all innocent victims robbed of their homes and their lives.  We ask this through Our Lord Jesus Christ, your son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. 
       R/  Amen. 

SOUL SANCTUARY GOSPEL CHOIR MUSIC:  “Go tell it on the mountain”; arr Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir

Hope and joy in the midst even of so much suffering.  Certainly the experience of many of the refugees who have helped put together today’s service.  Hope and joy in adversity is also expressed throughout the Bible, starting in the Old Testament.  In a moment the choir will sing Psalm 84 but now we hear the words of the prophet Jeremiah in this passage, read by Carine, a refugee who serves on the JRS governance committee.

A reading from the Book of Jeremiah. 
A voice is heard in Ramah,
    lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
    she refuses to be comforted for her children,
    because they are no more.
16 Thus says the LORD:
Keep your voice from weeping,
    and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the LORD:
    they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
17 there is hope for your future,
says the LORD:
    your children shall come back to their own country.
The word of the Lord.
      R/  Thanks be to God.


SOUL SANCTUARY GOSPEL CHOIR: "Better Is One Day” (Psalm 84); chorus by Matt Redman arr Trey Mclaughlin, verses by Soul Sanctuary Gospel Choir.

We listen now to the Gospel story of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt and massacre of the innocents:
The Lord be with you
      R/  And with your spirit
A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Matthew
      R/  Glory to you, O Lord

[GOSPEL READING:  Matthew 2: 13-18]
After the wise men had left, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother with you, and escape into Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, because Herod intends to search for the child and do away with him.’ So Joseph got up and, taking the child and his mother with him, left that night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod was dead. This was to fulfil what the Lord had spoken through the prophet:
I called my son out of Egypt.
Herod was furious when he realised that he had been outwitted by the wise men, and in Bethlehem and its surrounding district he had all the male children killed who were two years old or under, reckoning by the date he had been careful to ask the wise men. It was then that the words spoken through the prophet Jeremiah were fulfilled:
A voice was heard in Ramah,
sobbing and loudly lamenting:
it was Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted because they were no more.
The Gospel of the Lord
       R/  Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ

It may at first seem paradoxical that this painful Gospel story, full of suffering, grief and injustice forms part of our great festival of hope and joy, of God’s love for us and His closeness to us.  What are we to make of that? 
My experience of working with refugees around the world suggests that one way to reflect on this question may be to spend time alongside those whose lives today bear the pain of exile.
[the Gospel story & refugees’ story]
Many of the asylum seekers and refugees taking part in this service know the courage and strength it would have taken for Mary and Joseph to get up in the night, take their child in their arms and leave everything behind to flee to safety.  They know too that the sense of loss – of family, friends, community and all that was home – would probably have intensified over time.  This is the face of Emmanuel, God with us: a persecuted family forced to seek asylum; living in exile.
Our Gospel writer situates this story, laden with symbols, within the tradition of The Exodus: that foundational experience in the history of the Jewish people.  In The Exodus, liberation from the oppressor was only the beginning.  For many asylum seekers too, escape from persecution often presages a longer gruelling wandering in the wilderness of legal limbo, awaiting refugee status, the right to work, and the chance to begin life again.  Living here, but not able to settle, can leave the promised land both tantalisingly in view and yet cruelly beyond grasp.
One refugee I came to know through JRS UK in the last two years is Cécile, who fled persecution in the Congo. She has just been given leave to remain, after nearly a decade of waiting and striving, much of it in poor health.  During those awful years, she was dispersed to 6 different cities with the intervening time spent in destitution, reliant on the generosity of others for a bed at night.  I shall never forget the radiance in her face when she finally received her papers.  Then did the women and men in our team rejoice; we knew how much she had suffered. 
[a place of formation]
The Exodus was a period of intense hardship and testing for the people of Israel, but it was also a place of formation: it was whilst wandering in the wilderness that God established a covenant with them, and they were fed with manna from His own hand.  The experience of The Exodus became fundamental to their sense of identity and imagination but also to the story of how they came to know God and be in relationship with Him. 
This again is echoed in the experiences of many seeking asylum today. Asylum seekers I’ve met often speak about the importance of faith for them, as their key source of resilience in the long agony of their wait.  I am inspired and challenged by these conversations.  Frequently I learn something about how God acts and how He chooses to reveal Himself. 
This time last year I had a conversation with a member of our refugee choir.  She was approaching a difficult personal anniversary and had been preoccupied by sadness. The opportunity to sing in a performance provided an unexpected moment of celebration, something she had longed for.  Her capacity to cherish the moment and give praise to God for its gift in a time of personal pain shook my own ingratitude to the core. 
Such conversations have given me a glimpse of grace in action.  And it is hard to escape the realisation that God seems to be doing something these refugees’ lives, something that doesn’t come so easily to those of us who live with more certainty and security.  Perhaps refugees who have walked the lonely journey of anxiety and struggle and learnt through it to lean on God, have something to teach us?
[Rachel: solidarity in grief]
In case we move too quickly to glib answers about the meaning of suffering, Rachel’s cry of anguish gives us a discomfiting insight into what we might learn if we truly allow ourselves to be taught by the exiled.  Without Rachel, it might be easy to gloss over the surface of the story of the Flight to Egypt; to wrap it up in Christmas cheer and leap straight to the lucky escape of the Holy Family.  She calls us back – to the horror of Herod’s atrocity, to the open wound of forced exile and the enduring trauma of violence, which cannot be mended by cheap comfort. 
The Rachel of Jeremiah is an allegorical, trans-historical matriarch, grieving not for her own children, but on behalf of the traumatised forced deportees to Babylon.  Hers is a grief of prophetic solidarity, crying out in Ramah, a notorious place of detention where captives were taken before removal. 
She weeps and sobs but there is such strength in her defiant resistance, her refusal to accept the wrongs done to her people. It is in that sense an act of faithfulness, because it is rooted in her belief in God’s justice and in her hope that God will act.
Rachel’s lamentation makes manifest at once the intolerable suffering of the exiles, agonised waiting and hope in God.  It seems significant that there is room for Rachel in the vision of poetic beauty Jeremiah describes. Hers is an authentic intercession, rooted in truth, and the Lord hears her and makes a promise – there will be a reward for her labour of mourning.  Her people will return; there is hope, says the Lord. 
Perhaps for those of us who walk alongside refugees, Rachel is a model for our advocacy.  It is a costly model; one based in suffering with, opening ourselves up to the full implications of pain, injustice and sin and being willing to name it, defiantly, resolutely, while remaining rooted in faith, hope and truth.     
The story of the Flight to Egypt, like the story of the Babylonian exile, the Exodus and the stories of refugees today, brings us face to face with the reality of suffering and injustice.  But woven within these stories is also a thread of hope.  Hope rooted in the truth that God is with us, that he hears our anguish, and that he can bring forth fruit even from the worst situation. 
This is the Good News of Christmas: but to hear it, we must open our ears, and let our hearts be moved by those who cry out in pain as well as those who sing with joy.

SOUL SANCTUARY GOSPEL CHOIR: "Silent Night”; arr Clinton Jordan

 ‘Silent Night’, that traditional Christmas carol expressing our wonder at the precious gift of God’s coming to us in his weakness as a child born in poverty which brings us to our prayers which are led by refugees and asylum seekers who are part of our community here.

We pray for all refugees, around the world., For those without papers, who are just surviving, who are homeless, who are sick and who are destitute. Lord in your mercy. 
       R/ Hear our prayer.
On this day of the Feast of the Holy Family, we pray for all who have been separated from their children. May God help them and help families reunite. Lord in your mercy. 
       R/ Hear our prayer.
We pray for any organisations who are working to help refugees. May God help them be faithful in their service.  Lord in your mercy. 
       R/ Hear our prayer.
May God help any countries where people are fleeing because of disaster and for all who are wrongly imprisoned and do not have freedom. We ask God to bring Peace this Christmas. Lord in your mercy. 
       R/ Hear our prayer.
May God help all to see that behind the labels and stigma to recognise that we are all brothers and sisters of our same humanity.  Lord in your mercy. 
       R/ Hear our prayer.

We ask our mother Mary to add her prayers to ours:
       R/ Hail Mary, full of Grace.
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen

Mary knew what it meant to truly believe even in the agony she endured for her son.  Our refugee choir now sings this powerful testimony of belief in God which frees us from despair: ‘Amazing Grace, I’m a believer’.

JRS REFUGEE CHOIR MUSIC:  “Believer”; by Tonex; arr Magdalena Supel
Now let us pray in the words our saviour gave us.  Please pray if you wish in your own language.
       R/  Our Father,
who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.   Amen.

O God, merciful father, help us to imitate constantly the example of the Holy Family, so that, after the trials of this world, we may share their company for ever.  We ask this through Christ our Lord.
       R/  Amen

The Lord be with you
       R/  And with your spirit
And may the blessing of almighty God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, come down on you and your families this Christmas Season and evermore.
       R/  Amen
To conclude our service, the choir now remind us that the stable and the flight into Egypt prefigure Christ’s passion and death for our freedom, in this powerful song ‘Born to Die’

SOUL SANCTUARY GOSPEL CHOIR MUSIC:   “Born to die”; by Hezekiah Walker


  • Sun 30 Dec 2018 08:10

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