March 3, 2008

Home At Last

(For CREW; written in 2000)

The impressions left within us are all rather permanent; the sentiments are as genuine as they are palpable.

Serenity. Safety. Predictability. Warmth. Security. Lodging. Rest. Comfort. In a word, home.

The houses in which we grew up, if they were filled with even a small measure of goodness and virtue, usually become for us a kind of sun around which the rest of our lives will orbit. Even say the word – "home" – and suddenly most of us are transported back to a precise place where our lives first took shape. Life will ebb and flow and take us many places, but home remains, well … home.

For me, the scenes are unfailing. Six-pane windows overlooking a murky river. Deep brown carpet which provided rocky ground or stormy seas for many a toy expedition. More stairs than our dog could count, though she knew exactly which one caught the afternoon sun. Doors that would not shut securely. Floors that creaked under all ages of feet: each of them victims and victors in the relentless aging of a place enjoyed by several generations.

This place is a part of who I am. Remove it, and you have removed something of me.

To be sure, not everyone in this life is so blessed to have experienced the rootedness of a family home place, but many of us have. The structures come in all shapes and sizes; they represent all levels of means, from frugality to opulence. The lands on which they stand are as diverse as we are when we start swapping stories of our youth. But the consistent trait among all our growing-up-homes is that the places themselves somehow root us in life, they form and shape us in inexplicable ways. It is almost mystical, how four walls and an interior space in some way take on a kind of life of their own. "Home is where the heart is," one often hears. Indeed, for such places soon become the center of who we are, or at least of who we once were. And when life throws us experiences and challenges that are sometimes too great to bear, it is to those homes and what they represent that we are often tempted to retreat.

Some of us can still make this retreat. Others cannot. For some, legal deeds have changed or buildings have been razed; fences are not mended enough to visit or our familial ties have sold shop and long since moved away. Whatever the blockage, for too many of us the retreat to "home" is possible now only in the memories that linger. Homelessness—if not in actuality, at least in the heart.

But how silly are these hearts of ours! Such places, are they not simply the sophisticated rendering of wood and materials – no more alive than a pile of lumber and a box of nails. Why do these places captivate us so?

And from the vantage point of Biblical hope, what do we make of these feelings, these deep memories, these peculiar but consistent places in our hearts that treasure so deeply the places of our early living? Is there any value in these sentiments? Is the call of a home place simply the tug of some worldly treasure, the kind of obstacle to grace that lures one backwards into memories even while Jesus-faith calls us forward into new life? Pining away for home – is this anyway for the baptized to behave?

Perhaps. And maybe even more than we know. One wonders if our pining away for home is our hearts' easiest method of pining away for God. Our frequent sinning notwithstanding, most of us still hunger for grace and redemption because we daily see a world about us that is, theologically speaking, quite homeless. We hunger for a safe place for our hearts, our lives—a home.

There is no homelessness with Jesus. In him "all things hold together." We are rooted in his mercy, secured in his grace, housed by his regard, bound up in his promises, hemmed in by his presence, and held tightly by his resurrection. We long for the security of homes because we long for the security of everlasting life in him. And for those in Christ, that treasured heart-space now occupied by the places of our earthly living will one day soon be fully occupied with resurrected "homes" that are similar, yet wonderfully better. You start moving from one house to the other they day you are baptized.

The Apostle Paul tries to explain our life now with the resurrection life to come. He says to the Corinthians (chapter 15) that it is sort of like a seed and its resulting beautiful flower: the two are different, yet they are similar. No one confuses a sunflower seed for the sunflower it yields, yet neither does anyone imagine that the one has nothing to do with the other. If you know something about the beauty of a seed, you necessarily now something about how beautiful the flower will be.

And so it is with us. The moments of deep gladness in our lives, however fleeting they may be in such a broken world, they are nevertheless like signposts pointing to an a deeper gladness promised beyond the grave, in the resurrection to come. The safety of our homes points us onward to the safety of our Home. We are remembering God's future. In a word, resurrection. The raising up of our bodies – these bodies – in a new and transformed ways, all in God's good time.

We miss our homes, many of us. We miss the way we were when we were in them. But do not imagine, saints of God, that what you once knew so well and what you now miss so deeply have nothing to do with that which is to come. It is now on its way, this resurrection life. That sacred space in your heart, it is already being filled with the joy and glory of a new home that is not yet finished. One that is similar, yet wonderfully different.

Our old homes, Christ's new home.
Our bodies now, our bodies then.
Seeds, flowers.
Seeing dimly, seeing face to face.
Remembering the past, remembering the future.
Home for awhile, home for good.
Fleshly bodies, resurrection bodies.

Similar, yet wholly (and holy) different. Jesus saw it coming in his own resurrection:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many homes … And you know the way to the place where I am going."

Indeed. And it is nice to be home, at last.