Aliens and strangers
Augustine writes movingly of the civitas Dei peregrina, the pilgrim City of God. By this, he refers to that society of people scattered among the nations on earth who love God more than self, who glory in him, rather than seeking their own glory, who confess Christ and yearn for home, finding themselves homeless wanderers in this world. Indeed, the Latin term peregrina, often translated 'pilgrim' might perhaps be better rendered 'resident alien' or 'sojourner'. It is a word closer to the experience of Tom Hanks in The Terminal than the merry pilgrim-cum-tourists of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
To confess Christ is to put yourself on the wrong side of those powers that crucified him, and so to find oneself misunderstood as a rebel. Misunderstood, because just as Christ was a prophet calling the nation back to its true identity, calling humanity back to its Creator, so those who take up their cross and follow him are doing so out of faithfulness to that Creator and thus in solidarity with the groaning creation.
And like the creation, those with the Spirit - the firstfruits of the future presence of God - yearn for the redemption of our bodies, for a transformed world where death is no more, where Christ's gracious kingdom is unopposed, where the riches of God's kindness are poured out with unspeakable joy. We long for the day when the oppressor is no more and the earth is inherited by the meek.
Because of this, we can never feel at home in a world where the rich devour the poor, where unborn strangers are turned back at the borders of life, where Christ is crowned with thorns and anointed with spittle. We are aliens, citizens of the civitas Dei peregrina.
But this is not because our home is elsewhere. It is elsewhen.
And so I wonder whether when Christians are called 'aliens and strangers', this is less like the Jewish exiles in Babylon, who pined for Zion and could not sing for grief, and more like Abraham. Abraham and his immediate descendents are repeatedly called 'aliens' and 'strangers' (Gen 17.8; 21.23, 34; 23.4; 26.3; 28.4; 37.1), though they are already living in the land that God had promised them. Though strangers, the land belongs to them by promise.
For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.
- 1 Corinthians 3.21-23Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
Ten points for guessing the country in the above pic.