This is not the Homecoming Sunday we were hoping for. This is not the home we had hoped to be worshipping in this morning. We had high hopes that once we were all able to be vaccinated, that we could return to worshipping together, in person, in our sanctuary. But once again the numbers are going in the wrong direction and many of us are dreading what might happen now that schools have opened once again. So, out of an abundance of caution we are not returning to the home that our sanctuary was for us. The home of our longing continues to allude us, so how can we call this Homecoming Sunday?
Longing for a home that I cannot return to is a familiar feeling for me. For I have spent a great deal of my life longing for a home I could never return to. To say that my family moved around a lot when I was a kid would be a massive understatement. Sometimes it felt that every time I became comfortable enough to think of a place as home, we were on the move again. Moving from house to house, country to country, school to school, classroom to classroom, left me longing for what was once home. I was always the new kid in school. Being the new kid in unfamiliar surroundings is not a pleasant experience. The stress of new surroundings and unfamiliar ways, not to mention strangers to get to know, could be unbearable at times.
The stress played itself out in the form of a recurring nightmare which continues to show up as we navigate the ups and downs of these strange pandemic challenges. The nightmare is always the same. I’m breathless from running away from some frightening experience. I arrive at what I believe to be the front door of my home. The door is the only thing which ever changes in my nightmare. Sometimes its blue, sometimes its red, sometimes its green. Recently it was a mostly glass door, similar to the one in the front of our church. Somehow, in my dream I always know that beyond the door I will find relief from the pressures of the newness in which I find myself. Beyond the door, no matter what the colour, beyond the door I will be safe.
Now rowing up we were latch-key kids. For those of you too young or too privileged to remember, latch-key kids, we were the children of families where both parents worked. So, we fended for ourselves when we got home from school. So, that we wouldn’t lose them, we carried the keys to our home on chains around our necks. In my stress induced nightmares, I arrive breathless at my new front door, take the key from around my neck, so that I can let myself into the safety of my home, only to discover that the key never fits into the lock because the key which I carry is always the key to the last house that I lived in. Unable to enter my new home, I awake filled with anxiety. The best word to describe this anxiety is homesickness; a longing for home, for familiarity, a longing for what was.
This nightmare has become all too real as so many of the places and events in which we once felt at home have changed so very much. The unfamiliar contours of our new reality seem to be relentless. Who could possibly blame us for longing to go home to life before COVID? During these past eighteen months it has been one change after another. So much has been lost. So many connections have been severed. Too many people have died. Institutions have fallen. Business have closed. Relationships have suffered. Some churches have not survived. And maybe worst of all, grief has been suspended until someday when we can all grieve together in-person. Here we stand outside the door of a whole new world, longing to return to what was.
We are not the first to stand in the precipice between the kind of world where we felt at home and a new world of unfamiliar challenges. I am reminded of a writer who also worked out their anxiety about the future. We don’t know his or her name, but tradition has named this writer John the Elder, or John the Divine, or John the Theologian. I like to call him, “Johnny” to differentiate him from Jesus’ beloved friend John. Johnny was a follower of Jesus’ Way of being, who wrote the Book of Revelation at the very end of the first century. Some 70 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, and about 30 years after the Romans had destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem and reduced the city of Jerusalem to ruble. We don’t know how Johnny ended up on the Island of Patmos, which is between Greece and Turkey. We do know that life for the Followers of the Way was fraught with dangers the likes of which makes COVID seem like a picnic. Surrounded by enemies, Johnny tended to write in code, to protect his meaning from all but fellow Followers of the Way. Sadly, Johnny’s cryptic code style has led to all sorts of abuses of the text of Revelation over the centuries. Not the least of which is the misunderstanding perpetuated by fundamentalists who insist on reading the Book of Revelation as a prediction of the end of the world. Martin Luther was not fond of the Book of Revelation and seriously considered leaving it out of his translation of the Bible. In the end, Luther opted to put the Book at the end of his version of the Bible, where it remains to this day.
Revelation can be best understood not as a prediction of the future, but as a description of the end of one world and the beginning of another. Johnny was writing to an endangered, marginalized people in hiding, whose world had been turned upside down by their oppressors. Revelation invites people out of the world they know and into a new world. Listen to the way Johnny invites his fellow followers of the Way move into the new world by describing his dream.
John the Elder writes: “Then I saw new heavens and a new Earth. The former heavens and the former Earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer. I also saw a new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God, Beautiful as two lovers on their wedding day. And I heard a loud voice calling from the throne, “Look! God’s Temple is among humankind!” God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them. The MOST HIGH will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death, mourning, crying and pain will be now more, for the old order had fallen.” The ONE who sat on the throne said, “Look! I AM making everything new!” (Rev.21:1-5a)
On this Homecoming Sunday, I suspect that many of us, myself included, are not quite ready for the new world that awaits us. We are longing for the familiar of what was. Some of us are prepared to burst into the new world which awaits us determined to reestablish what once was; to set things up the way they were, to get back to what we fondly refer to as “normal”. Others of us are tempted to hunker down, and wait until it is safe, so that we can go back to our old ways of doing and being, once the all-clear is sounded. If you are anything like me, you’re teetering on the edge, not knowing exactly what to expect, and anxious about what lies beyond our longings for the familiarity of home. I feel like the latch-key kid I once was, I’m homesick for what was and anxious about what is to come. I just want to go home. I want to go home and I’m not sure that any of the old keys hanging around our necks can get us there.
A long time ago, I told a very wise friend of mine about my recurring nightmare. My friend Henry is a very wise Jewish Rabbi, who is also a licensed psychotherapist. So, he knows more than a thing or two about dreams and anxiety. After asking me a few questions about my recurring nightmare, Henry suggested that I try summoning up my nightmare as a daymare. Now, I’d never heard of a daymare, so it took a while for Henry to convince me that I should try to walk around inside my nightmare in the middle of the day to see what I might discover. I agreed on the condition that Henry would come with me into my daymare.
We began by talking a little about the various anxieties which were creating my stress. It didn’t take long for us to arrive at a very large formidable, black door. I reached for the key which hung around my neck and just like always the key didn’t fit. Henry invited me to toss the key away. He insisted that the key I was clinging to belonged to my old home and it was not the key which I needed. I protested that I was so homesick that maybe I should just try to find the door which my old key fit into. Maybe if I found the right door, I’d finally be able to go home. Henry asked me, “Where are you when you have your nightmare?” At first, I didn’t understand, “I’m running away.” “No,” Henry insisted, “not what is happening in your nightmare. But where are you actually dreaming your nightmare? Where are you?” I still didn’t understand. So, Henry gave me the answer, “You are at home in your own bed. You are already home. You are already safe.” Then Henry told me to go to the window and look outside and he asked, “What can you see?” I saw people, some unfamiliar, some familiar, some old friends, some new friends, some strangers, all of them changed somehow from how I remembered them. I saw familiar places, unfamiliar places, all of them changed somehow from how I remembered them. I saw all sorts of things, places, and people I’d never seen before. Henry told me to come away from the window, in my dream. “Look at the door. You don’t need that old key to get into your home. You are already inside. Inside your new home. Open the door, open the door and go outside.”
That other dreamer, Johnny, he understood, the voice he heard in his dream, said it loud and clear: “Look! God’s Temple is among humankind! God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them. The MOST HIGH will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The old keys we’re clinging too, we don’t need them anymore. We’re safe, in our HOME, which is the ONE in, whom, we, live and move and have our being. There’s a whole world out there, full of people who have been forever changed, full of new and unfamiliar ways of being. One thing remains the same, whether we are worshipping online, or gathering in parking lots, vaccinated, wearing masks, in-person or mediated over technology, we are already home because we’ve always been home.
Our old keys may not fit the locks. But the ONE who is our HOME, is making all things new. Look around, look out the window, open the door. Welcome HOME! HOME to the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being! Our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself – HOME! Amen.
VIEW the full HOMECOMING WORSHIP below