Essay

Home on Ascension Day

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In the book Letter to my Daughter, a collection of 28 short essays, the great poet, activist, and human being Maya Angelou writes in one meditation entitled “Home,”

Thomas Wolfe warned in the title of America’s great novel that ‘You Can’t Go Home Again.’ I enjoyed the book but I never agreed with the title. I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.

What Ms. Angelou goes on to share is much more complex than a simple quote communicates, although many a simple quote will be used in the days and weeks ahead. She was extolling a complicated story about identity, life, and meaning. On this day following her passing I grieve the loss that we have experienced and celebrate the amazing woman she was. But her words, especially these about home, are rolling around in my heart this day. Admittedly, taken out of context, but still, “one can never leave home.”

I think about home a lot. Recently, I was asked about what my vision in ministry is. I responded with hospitality and discipleship and missional stuff, etc…but when it comes down to it, I think it’s all about home. The poetry of John’s Gospel prologue says it well, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” God makes God’s home with us. But this is more than just part of the Christmas story or even the Incarnation.

If you follow along the Revised Common Lectionary then you will be aware that for the last two weeks we’ve been walking with the Gospel text from John 14. It begins with Jesus saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” From here we get Thomas’s response, “eh, no?” And Jesus’s great comeback, “”I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Too often this text is used as a formula for or directions to heaven which seems to entirely miss its greatest thrust. It is about heaven (which I will return to in a moment). But more forcefully, it is about Jesus’s identity and God’s location. He explains, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” This is about God’s home, God’s home in the world, God’s home in Christ. Jesus continues to promise the Holy Spirit to his disciples. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” Again, God makes God’s home with us!

Which brings me to today and why this is particularly on my mind and heart. It’s because of the Ascension. My local congregation annually joins our Lutheran neighbours on the Day of the Ascension of the Lord. We worship together with me preaching and presiding at the Table. I correct them on their theology where they have not been Reformed enough. (No, I don’t really do that. Much.)

But today especially, I’m thinking about home, and why it makes a difference. We confess regularly in the creed,

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

He ascended into heaven. It’s almost a throwaway line, what with all the emphasis we put on it. But of course not. We the church often see ourselves as sojourners in a strange land that is not our home. And certainly in a way we are. A wandering Aramean was my father… I think often of the words to a rather dated contemporary Christian song,

Nobody tells you when you get born here
How much you’ll come to love it
And how you’ll never belong here
So I call you my country
And I’ll be lonely for my home
And I wish that I could take you there with me

And I’ll sing His song, and I’ll sing His song
In the land of my sojourn

Sojourn is part of our faith experience. But in the fullness of Christ’s experience, it is also part of his. But not in the way we often think of it. Or at least not how I usually thought about it. I have often thought about what it meant for God in Christ to make his home among us, while spiritually real and true, it was nonetheless somehow temporary. Jesus returns to the Father. But I’ve come to think differently about this now. Jesus’s ascension is like a sojourn for him going back to his Father’s home, well and good, for there’s work to be done. But he will come back again, he will come back home, home with us. With the ascension, Jesus brings his entire humanity to God the Father. Joined with Christ, we have access to the the throne. God is with us. We are with God. We are home.

All this to say, home is important. We carry home with in us, God’s home. And as such I agree with Maya Angelou, “I believe that one can never leave home.” God’s home with us.

Happy Ascension Day!

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