As I have gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the power of Homecomings. Part of the power comes from Nostalgia, of course.
There was a time I could stop by to visit my parents. The garage was always open. You could walk in, give the entry a courtesy knock and walk right in. But those days are gone. There have been so many home invasions over the past 10-20 years, the garage is kept closed, the gates locked, and now I have to call if I’m going to stop by.
This change creates a pain in my gut – and that’s what nostalgia means (by the way). It literally means “coming home pain.” There is the memory of what it ought to be like, and there is the reality of what it IS like, and the heart breaks (just a little).
Our lessons today talk about homecomings. In Nehemiah, the Jewish people have been in exile for 40 years. They’ve come home to Jerusalem, and the city is in ruins. It was destroyed in the war, and it was left to go to seed.
The palace is in ruins. The temple is in ruins. The gardens are overgrown with weeds; the orchards are full of burned out stumps. The peoples’ hearts are broken. It’s a foreign land, in many ways. It’s not even “home”, really. Many of the people were old when they went into captivity, and it is their children and their grandchildren who have come back to a place many of them barely remember, and others have never even seen.
What to do?
The people gather, and Ezra the priest meets them out by the Water-Gate, and he begins to read from the Book of the Law – the Torah. It is in Hebrew, but the people only speak Aramaic, so Ezra reads, another translates, and the people listen. This goes on from sun-up to sun-down, and the people weep.
Now, imagine weeping over the law. If you’ve read civil or criminal codes (or their legislative histories) you may be tempted to do many things, but crying is probably pretty far down the list (unless you’re studying for the Bar Exam). But Torah is different. When we think of LAW, we think of rules & regulations. But Torah is different. For the people of God, Torah isn’t the 613 Commandments.
It is the story of God’s relationship with THEM. In the beginning, God created. God brought us forth. In God’s image we were created. From all the peoples and tongues in all the world, God chose US! When we were nothing – slaves in Egypt, God rescued US. When we were hungry, God fed US. When we were thirsty, God gave US to drink. God saw to it that when we wandered 40 years in the wilderness, neither our clothes, nor even our sandals wore out. When our enemies surrounded us, the hand of God was with us. When we lost our faith, we were carried away into captivity, but God has brought us home!
Home! They heard the story, and their guts churned, and their hearts ached and Ezra said, “THIS, is how much God loves us.” And the people wept.
In the Gospel, we have another story – another homecoming. Jesus has come home. If you remember a couple weeks back, Jesus was baptized, and Jesus heard that voice: “You are my child, my beloved; in you I am well pleased; in you, I am SO proud.”
Jesus comes home, and on the Sabbath, he attends synagogue, “as is his custom.” He’s given an opportunity to read, so he takes the scroll and he finds what he’s looking for in the scroll. He rolls it open to Isaiah, and he reads this passage: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me …” When he’s done, he hands it back to the Verger and he says, “Today, God’s promise has been fulfilled.”
Are you poor? God is with you! Are you bound up by attitudes or circumstances beyond your control? God is with you. Are you blinded by prejudice or hatred? God is here to open your eyes and your heart. Are you crushed by the world around you? God is here to lift you up. God has put me here to tell you this – and now you know.