Trinity 21 Year A
Guests are gods - from the Santali tribe of India
Sermons year A
Christopher Harrison home page
- Introduction on the diversity of India - its places, its peoples, its races, languages - and 645 distinct tribes.
- Brief background on the Ashbourne churches' link with the diocese of Patna
- Details of my trip, and its purpose - part of a bigger visit by a group from Derbyshire schools. Link with Fenny Bentley school. Speak and preach at various churches and schools; mission conference in E Himalaya diocese.
- Visit to Barharwa and Taljhari. Ancient lands of the Santali tribe. Villages in largely forested areas, remote. Canon Cole had spend 42 years there from 1860, setting up schools and churches, and providing health care. Showed the Santali people the Christian way. Held in high regard by the present day Santalis, most of whom are now Christians. Bishop Philip is himself a Santal - showed us the very modest house in which he grew up. Was educated at the village school founded by Canon Cole - went on to university and then to ordination. Indian society is very hierarchical - it is rare for a bishop to come from a tribal village.
- Describe visits to schools. The garlands; the dancers, about twenty young women, in blue and red - saris, all doing identical steps - slowly walking backwards as we moved forwards, to the accompaniment of tribal drums. The welcome song by the children ... 'Happy Welcome ... happy welcome .. happy welcome to you ...' The washing of the feet. Offering a drink of water.
- The symbolism - the Santalis, in common with other tribes, see guests as gods. This was their way of showing the esteem in which they held us. Notice how the welcome ritual created a relationship in which they showed themselves as our servants. Walking backwards ... stooping at our feet ... making us comfortable ... providing for our needs after a journey.
- By their welcome, then, those Santalis showed that they knew that there is something of God in everyone. That each human being is important in God's eyes, and so each human being should be important to us.
- But the idea of seeing God in other people is very much a Christian concept as well. Remember how Jesus said that whenever we feed the hungry we are feeding him; when we care for the sick we are caring for him; when we visit someone in prison we are visiting him; and indeed when we invite a stranger in it is no less than him whom we welcome.
- Of course in material terms we were rich and they were poor. We went to Taljhari very aware that over recent years the people of our churches have been the givers, sending money to help make their lives better - helping with the costs of an orphanage, with rebuilding a derelict high school, and so on. But in fact we felt that we were the ones who had been spiritually enriched by this outpouring of kindness by which they had made us feel so valued.
- We were shown by those tribal peoples that you don't have to be rich in material terms to be truly rich. But if we are rich in monetary terms, it makes it all the more important not to ignore the Christ who is to be found in the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the stranger.