You Can’t Go Home Again: Part Two

In part one of this series, we looked at the universal experience of how difficult it is for us to return to our original “homes” after having been absent for some time. We have changed and so have the people of our hometown, but too often we have not changed in the same ways. This often leads to a sense of isolation and alienation, especially in terms of perspectives and values.

In the Christian faith there is a recognition of this painful and yet necessary experience. Jesus required that we put devotion to the Kin-dom of God over any family obligations even if that results in division and misunderstanding (See Matthew 10:34-39; Luke 12: 49-53). The New Testament repeatedly contrasts faithfulness to Christ with the demands, seductions, and ways of the world. (Please note that the word “world” in the Bible has two meanings. One meaning refers to creation which is viewed as good and precious to God. The other meaning refers to the “world” we have made through idolatrous systems of greed, arrogance, violence, and prejudice. It is these systems which can no longer be our “home.” See my article entitled “What World and What Kingdom?”)

Jesus created what Clarence Jordan called “Demonstration Plots of the Kingdom of God” where followers of Jesus can experience a “home” where they belong and from which they find the strength, inspiration, and love to be faithful in an alienated and idolatrous world. Within these “homes” we find our true mothers, sisters, and brothers (See Mark 3:31-35; Mark 10:29-31). We find ways of being at home despite having to live in systems which are contrary and opposed to ways of love, compassion, justice, and peace. In these new families created by God’s presence and our faithfulness, we find the hearth we all need for fellowship and belonging. 

The writer of the Gospel of John especially focuses on this unique experience of home. He uses the word “abide” to communicate the source of our belonging and faithfulness (See John 15). Jesus abides in God and God abides in Jesus. And through God’s grace, we are given the opportunity to abide in Christ. We share in the “home” created by the love which exists between the Father and the Son. Our word “abode” as in a dwelling is related to the verb “abide.” The Greek verb used in John’s Gospel has the meaning of “remain in” or “continue in.” The “home” we find in Christ is found in a mutuality of relationships more than in a physical place. Shifting metaphors, Jesus speaks of the vine and its branches to express the vital connection of our relationship with him and each other. God is the vinedresser, Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. Together we constitute the dynamic whole. 

The image of “home” is also found in the well-known passage of John 14 where Jesus refers to his Father’s house with many rooms (not mansions). This passage is often used at funeral services to provide comfort for the bereaved. However, Jesus is probably not referring to a place for us beyond death. He has in mind our abiding in him (and thus in God) which can be more evident and powerful through the Spirit which he will send and which will universalize his presence. The “many rooms” symbolizes the large family which will occupy God’s household through Christ. We find our home now and in eternity within God and with one another. God through Christ becomes our abode.

Becoming a part of this household is also related to the foot-washing in John 13. It was the obligation of the host to make sure the feet of guests were washed either by the host or a servant. Such a practice welcomed people into the abode of the host where they were accepted, provided for, and protected. When Jesus washes the disciples’ feet, he may well have provided a model for servanthood. However, his main intention was welcoming and inviting them to become a part of his “home” as they share in the mutuality of love God provides in and through him. (Such an interpretation makes sense of Peter’s misunderstanding of Jesus’ act and his insistence that his whole body be washed. Peter confuses ritual cleansing with the welcoming purpose of foot-washing. The phrase “except for his feet” is omitted in some ancient manuscripts.)

So, what is the relevance of all this for us in the 21st century? The two key words in the phrase “You can’t go home again” are “home” and “again.” The home of nostalgia and memory is gone forever. It has irreversibly changed for us and those who “stayed at home” whether we and they realize it or not. “Again” will never happen. However, we are invited to live in a “home” which is eternal and healing for all. But this new abode does not allow for static homesteading or a “gated community” of exclusion. Our home becomes the “space” created by a mutuality of love, and as such, remains dynamic, open, and hopeful. This home is large enough to transcend time and place—to include and transform. It resembles more a tabernacle capable of expanding than a rigid structure limited in size.

Another image we can imagine is a wagon train (provided we do not include the expropriation of land belonging to Indigenous Peoples). Those comprising a wagon train have a common goal. They are pilgrims, not wanderers. They are constantly on the move. However, each night they circle their wagons, build their fires, cook their food, sing their songs, tell their stories, enjoy each one’s company, and rest under the stars. Perhaps the dynamic church of today pursuing the will of God in this world to create a Beloved Community for all creatures can be like the wagon train. Most of the time, it’s on the move bearing witness by word and deed to the unconditional, indiscriminate, self-giving, and everlasting love of God for this world. Its circle is open for all (and I mean ALL) who want to become a part of this God Movement. But at times, we gather to feast upon the love we have for one another and the experience of the God who gives us joy and makes us one. We circle our wagons, sing our songs, tell our stories, break our bread, celebrate the beauty of this creation, and rest in the shalom made possible by a divine mutuality of love. But we never forget that our mission is broader, deeper, and fuller than our own belonging and comfort. “Home” in the truest sense can never be our experience until all find their place around God’s table and within God’s heart. There are an infinite number of “rooms” in the household of God. Our and creations final rest will never come until all vacancies are filled.

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