After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”
- Revelation 7:9-10
Throughout Lent we’ve focused on the dire needs of refugees and immigrants. Let’s remind ourselves once again of the facts.
First, we’re currently witnessing the largest mass migration of people since World War II. There are more refugees in the world today than there have been at any other time in history. And a huge number of those refugees are escaping from places where, if they returned or were ‘repatriated’ by force, they would be killed or would live in abject poverty under the thumb an oppressive government.
Second, the general trend among developed nations over the last few years has been to tighten border security, severely limit immigration, and admit a small fraction of the refugees seeking asylum. As a result, millions of refugees are barely getting by in dismal camps and slums in developing nations bordering the nations from which they have fled.
Throughout Lent we’ve also been asking ourselves: What is the Lord’s message to his church as it relates to immigrants and refugees? What is his message to each one of us? The Bible tells us again and again to welcome the stranger in our midst and to care for those who are most vulnerable.
But isn’t that naïve?
Many well-meaning people (including many Christians) think so. They believe the risks these days are just too great, and that restrictive immigration policies are necessary in order to protect our economy, our culture and our lives.
Probably we can all agree: every nation has a right and an obligation to protect itself from bad characters, especially those who seek to kill innocent people and sow terror. Moreover, in an age of terrorism, vetting procedures need to be sophisticated and rigorous. Border control is essential.
Yet history teaches us that immigration, over time, brings many blessings. Most immigrants struggle when they first arrive. But as they begin to put down roots, their presence leads to increased economic and cultural dynamism, as well as a strengthening of church and family structures. The people of Israel learned those lessons as they obeyed God’s commandment to welcome the stranger. And so have we in America, where, after all, the vast majority of us are the descendants of immigrants.
Today’s Lenten reading gives us a glimpse of the kingdom that is to come. There people of “every nation, tribe, people and language” will stand before the Lord’s throne. This signals to us that God loves variety, and that the glory and strength and joy of his kingdom are derived, in part, from the fact that everyone there is an immigrant – everyone there has arrived as a foreigner from a foreign land.
The reading ends with a reminder that salvation is from God alone. It’s good to keep that in mind when we’re faced with divisive issues, and we’re gripped with fear, and our instinct is to hunker down and take care of our own. Salvation is from God and not from us. Therefore, it always makes sense to obey his Word and trust his promises.
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