Little Lamb

Many of you, perhaps even all of you, have seen Aylan Kurdi. You may not know his name, but you do know him. You have seen him, seen his little red t-shirt rucked up around his tummy, seen his blue pants pushed up to the knees and his tiny shoes lined up one right beside the other. You have seen him, God help you, lying face down in the surf, his forehead pressing into the sucking sand, his arms tucked into close to his sides, palms up to heaven. You have seen him, God help you, in a photograph that shot around the world two and a half weeks ago, on Wednesday, September 2, the day that Aylan and eleven other Syrian refugees drowned as they tried to find passage to safety; the day that Aylan washed ashore on a lonely beach in Turkey, his body still and silent, waiting for someone to see.

What you may not have seen is another picture of him, released after Aylan’s death. He is still at home in this photograph, sitting and facing the camera in a bright yellow sweatshirt, holding his right ear in that way that children do. He sits next to his big brother, Galip, who drowned with him, and he is looking out past the frame of the shot with a sly smile on his face, looking at someone who is undoubtedly trying to make him laugh, perhaps at his mother, Rehen, who also drowned with him. He is, in this second photo, just a two-year-old like any two-year-old, with chubby cheeks and soft brown eyes, a kid like the kids in our photo albums, on our Facebook pages, the wallpaper of our iPhones.

I don’t know which picture is more devastating – the photo of what could have been or the photo that never should have been. I do know that it’s almost impossible to look at either of these photos and not feel your heart break with longing, with a pity that is beyond the limits of our vocabulary but that hits us right in the center of our guts. I know that it’s almost impossible to look at these photos and not want to cry out, Enough! No more. And I know that it’s almost impossible to look at these photos and not want to somehow step inside them, to run down that beach to Aylan and pick him up, just pick him up – hold him, pat his back and rub some warmth back into his limbs, brush the sand from his lips and breathe life back into him, watch the color come back into those chubby cheeks and the light into those soft brown eyes, hold his little salty soaked body and tell him over and over that it is going to be all right, that he’s safe, that he’s finally safe, that he’s seen and known and loved.

I will confess that, other than mourning and wishing and praying, I am not sure how to address the refugee crisis that is swamping the world right now. It is a maelstrom of complications, a storm that has swept across continents, wave upon wave, a sea of need and hurt fed from a stream of intolerance and injustice that springs from the sins of so many nations and peoples it hardly matters who started what anymore. As the Archbishop of Canterbury said recently, any real solution to this crisis will have to address not only the almost overwhelming humanitarian need but also the structures that have allowed for the systematic slaughter and dispossession of so many peoples. And how do you do both? And how do you do both from here, from America, which feels a world away from the sad shores of Turkey? Our Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, encouraged Episcopal churches to support Episcopal Migration Ministries, which helps to aid and relocate refugee families here in the States. But how do you do this when you click on the link in her article and find that the Episcopal Church didn’t list one single organization in Pennsylvania – not in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, but in the entire state of Pennsylvania. How do you and I do something, fix this, help? I have no simple answers. I know that it will take prayer and thought and, more than anything, attention. I know that it will take leadership from those among us who already know something of this work. I know that it will take time and courage, the Holy Spirit, the bread of the Eucharist, the comfort of God our Father. I know this, at least, even if I do not know the rest of the steps along the path.

I also know that it is important to start with that photo of little Aylan, to start with that feeling that rises up in our guts, the howl that threatens to escape from our throats, the tears that come when we see such a beautiful thing spoiled, such innocence abused, such wild waste. It is important to start with that feeling we have of so much love poured out on such a tiny, fragile thing. For do you know, little ones, that this is exactly how God feels when he looks at you? Do you know that it is this longing of love that God feels each time he looks at you in times of trouble, when you are lost, sick, alone, scared, frustrated, hungry, beaten, drowning in pain or sorrow or guilt or addiction or illness or confusion or doubt?

God has always looked at you this way, at all of the tiny, fragile things created by his almighty hand. He has always known this agonizing heartbreak when he has seen his little ones hurting and broken. And when our human sin and selfishness and silliness had led to so much beauty spoiled, so much wild waste that we were drowning in death, God looked down upon us his children and said, Enough. No more. And then God did that thing that we only wish we could. He looked down upon us sprawling and lost, palms opened up to heaven, and he stepped into the picture, ran out to us with arms spread wide and took us up in his embrace. God stepped into the picture and showed us that the little, lonely, and last would always be first; he stepped into the picture and let himself be taken and abused, betrayed, drowned under his own weight upon the heights of the cross. And then, then, three days after being killed, he rose again, breathed new life into the world, brought color back into our sin-saddened cheeks and light back into the darkness of our eyes. He transformed the terrifying waters of death into the waters of eternal life, waters that make us into one body, hallowed and whole, waters that welcome us home.

It is in remembering how we first were welcomed that we will find the strength to welcome others, to serve others, to help bring them home. It is in remembering how we first were welcomed that we will gain clarity of sight, the vision to find a way forward, and a new lens through which to see that photo of Aylan Kurdi. Look at that photo again. There is something there that we did not see before. Right there in the photograph, on the beach behind Aylan’s red t-shirt and bright blue pants is his Father, kneeling beside him. His Father, bending over him, brushing the hair out of his eyes with the same love and tenderness as he would do – as he will do – for you and me. His Father, looking at this little child made in his image and likeness and letting his heart break open with love. His Father, taking him up in his arms, holding him close to his heart and whispering into his perfect tiny ear:

Little Lamb who made thee        
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed. 
By the stream & o'er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice! 
         Little Lamb who made thee
         Dost thou know who made thee

         Little Lamb I'll tell thee,
         Little Lamb I'll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb: 
He is meek & he is mild, 
He became a little child: 
I a child & thou a lamb, 
We are called by his name.
         Little Lamb God bless thee. 
         Little Lamb, God bless thee.*

Little lambs, God bless you.

*The Lamb, William Blake (1757-1827)

Preached by Mtr. Erika Takacs
20 September 2015
Saint Mark's Church, Philadelphia


Posted on September 22, 2015 .