Home. I want to think with you about what home means. I’m thinking that’s what Jesus’ Ascension into heaven is all about: Going home.
I grew up in Nebraska, for the most part, and I came to love the spare emptiness of the landscape, and the unaffected warmth of people there. I was always fascinated by the pioneer folk who left relative comfort and stability in the East to venture west and start a new life – homesteading, they called it – the making of a new home.
Nebraska was my home, but in some sense I didn’t feel at home. Something else called me, though I wasn’t clear what that was. Eventually I came east to seminary, and then after a few more years back in Lincoln, I decided to leave again. A voice inside me was saying, “Go east, young man!” Of course I was full of doubts. I am at times painfully risk-averse. I seek security where I can get it. Why would I strike out to make a new home in a place I’d never been?
Somehow, this connects to today, the feast of our Lord’ Jesus’ final ascension into heaven.
What if home is not where we came from, but where we are going…where we are headed, our destiny with God? What if we really, truly believed in a God who loves us and won’t let us go? And we lived that way?
That’s one of the reasons I’m fascinated by Jesus: his laser focus on God, his trust in God. His ability to be honest in relationships, to love deeply without trying to own or control other people. His fearlessness when he risked loss.
Today we are contemplating Jesus’ ascension – his final departure from his earthly life among us, and his return to his home with God. Somehow, he always seemed to know this was his destiny. He was able to sit lightly with the seductions of this world, because his roots were already planted in God’s world, the kingdom. How did he do it?
I don’t know how he managed it. (That’s one of many reasons I am not Jesus!) He had a lot more trust in God than I do. My ability to rest in that trust is terribly uneven. It wasn’t as if Jesus had a charmed life, either. He had a hard life: he was always poor, and often without a home, a fixed address, without visible means of support. But somehow he seemed to be able to create a home wherever he was at the time. He did not need to build a protective shield around himself. He was not defensive, even though he often disagreed with people. He was not always worried about his future, the way I am…the way we Americans are taught to be, with our constant striving for self-improvement, our career plans and our 401k’s, our real estate and investment portfolios, and anxieties that eat us up. In all of this, I think we are trying to create a safe, secure home…and yet we still live in fear of losing it.
Jesus had some freedoms that many of us do not have, in that he did not have an immediate family of people he was responsible for. That’s a serious concern for most of us. On the other hand, at some level he knew he was living for the whole human family...he was God’s messiah – he came to save us all!
But what amazes me is Jesus’ apparent sense of personal freedom, his freedom from fear. And the only place I can figure that Jesus could get that freedom is from knowing his destiny, knowing that no matter what happened, he would go home with God in the end. That’s what the ascension means. Back home with God in the end.
(It’s easy to get caught up in questions about what “actually happened” – the vision of a literal ascension into the clouds his pretty hard to believe! But the real meaning of this event is the reunion of Jesus with his Father God.)
So what would it mean for us if we could really believe that we can trust in God’s love, that our destiny is with God in the end? How does that free us up to live more boldly, more exuberantly, more generously? Can we lessen our fears of the unknown, if we really believe we’re going home in the end?
We are still living in the world as we know it, with all its joys and all its struggles. Jobs are tenuous these days. Children have troubles growing up. Health problems rear their ugly heads. We see the anxieties in our political debates and campaigns. It can get to be a bit much; it can get us down. But the pattern for our lives is set out in Jesus’ life. The journey does not stop at the foot of the cross; it moves right through that, on to a place of fulfillment, joy, celebration. We came forth from God, and we are going home to God. That’s our true destiny. We’re going home.
T.S. Eliot said,
We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be tso arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.