A Sermon by the Rev. Elizabeth Costello
Associate Rector of St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church
In Fort Washington, Pennsylvania
On Sunday, May 14, 2017
One of my husband and my favorite songs to sing to each other whenever we are in the midst of a move is “Home,” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The chorus goes, “Home, let me come home; home is wherever I’m with you.” When our lives are in boxes, when we find ourselves in between places without access to creaturely comforts; we can all long for home. Whenever we find ourselves in this position, we try to remind ourselves what really makes a home. It is not the possessions or the location, though those things are important. It is each other.
In today’s gospel, Jesus, reminded the disciples of their ultimate home with God in time and eternity. Jesus, who is about to move from being with the disciples, to death on the cross, to a series of post-resurrection appearances, to ascend to the right hand of God the Father; offers the disciples the parting gift of home. Home in God the Father, through God the Son in time and eternity. Jesus tells us, as the song suggests, that home is wherever we are together with God.
Like a mother who anticipates her child’s needs before they ask, Jesus offers his disciples words of comfort and reassurance. Jesus tells his disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Like a parent, who prepares the room in anticipation of their grown child’s return, Jesus tells his disciples, “ 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?”
It is no wonder that this gospel is often read at funeral services. Hearing this gospel, you can understand why many Christians from other denominations, call the burial office, “home-going services,” to highlight our shared faith, that in death we return home to the Lord. Jesus reassures the disciples of their eternal home in God. But he does not limit this sense of home to the after life. He talks about the possibility of making our home in God during our lifetime. This dwelling place or room that Jesus promises, is that he will make direct access to God the Father possible on earth, as it will be in heaven.
All this work: this metaphysical space shifting—this home making, will allow for an indwelling between the triune God and all creation in the past, present, and future.
The whole point of Jesus’ saying goodbye to creation the first time, was so that he would never have to say goodbye again. Jesus says, “…if I go to 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.” Like a parent, Jesus will go to hell and back again, to make sure that his beloved will always be with him, that his beloved community can make their home in God forever.
But Thomas and Philip are confused. They struggle to understand what Jesus means by it all. Thomas does not understand where Jesus is going and how he is supposed to know how to get to this place. And even when Jesus offers directions to God the Father – by way of himself, Philip does not understand either. Philip asks to be shown how to get to God the Father. Jesus responds, with a loving and yet frustrated tone, “Have I been with you all this time Philip and still you do not know me?”
I don’t know about you, but I can be like Thomas and Philip. I often search for the truth about the ultimate reality, as Evelyn Underhill, called it, in all the wrong places. Until that is, Jesus comes after me again and again, and calls me to come home.
Like the children’s book, The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown, Jesus like the mother bunny, comes after her little bunny, and calls us home. I know, you are probably thinking, this preacher has lost her mind, but on Mother’s Day, indulge me as I read an excerpt from this children’s book:
Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, “I am running away.” If you run away said his mother, “I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.” “If you run after me,” said the little bunny, “I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you.” “If you become a fish in a trout stream,” said his other, “I will become a fisher man and I will fish for you.”
If you continued reading, the pattern of the little bunny running away and the mother bunny running after him continues. If you skip to the very end of the book, it reads:
“If you become a tight rope walker and walk across the air,” said the little bunny, “I will become a little boy and run into a house.” “If you become a little boy and run into a house” said the mother bunny, “I will become your mother and catch you in my arms and hug you.” “Shucks,” said the bunny, “I might just as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.” And so he did. “Have a carrot,” said the mother bunny.
Even on our worst days, Jesus calls us home. Like a parent, Jesus knows our shadow side, and loves us despite ourselves. Even when we have a hard time hearing, Jesus comes after us, so that where Jesus is, there we may also be. In those moments when we run away from our true selves and act in ways that lack integrity to who we really are, Jesus calls us to come home. When we run away from the passions and dreams that God has placed within us, Jesus calls us to come home. When we like Philip and Thomas, resist and run away from new possibilities, when we allow our epistemology to constrain God’s reality, stuck in limiting beliefs, or a vision of what life is supposed to look like, Jesus calls us to come home.
And this is the good news for us this morning: Jesus has prepared a home for you and for me. This is a home that we will ultimately return to when we die, and it is a home that we can find today. During our lifetime, we find this home by diving deeper into our spiritual lives. We enter this dwelling place through prayer, receive the Eucharist, study the bible, lean into tough situations, or in those moments when we see God in our ordinary lives.
As we dive deeper in our spiritual lives, the mystics serve as guides. In The Interior Castle, Theresa of Avila, a sixteenth century Spanish mystic described her experience of this indwelling through the metaphor of a castle. Through practices of piety, she opened up her entire self to God, as God entered into the inner room of her soul. Theresa wrote:
There is a secret place. A radiant sanctuary. As real as your own kitchen. More real than that. Constructed of the purest elements. Overflowing with the ten thousand beautiful things. Worlds within worlds. Forests, rivers. Velvet coverlets thrown over featherbeds, fountains bubbling beneath a canopy of stars. Bountiful forests, universal libraries. A wine cellar offering an intoxication so sweet you will never be sober again. A clarity so complete you will never again forget. This magnificent refuge is inside you. Enter. Shatter the darkness that shrouds the doorway… Believe the incredible truth that the Beloved has chosen for his dwelling place the core of your own being because that is the single most beautiful place in all of creation.
We may not think ourselves as mystics. Evelyn Underhill would encourage us that the spiritual life is accessible to us all, because we are innately spiritual. All we need to do is use our muscles.
As we open up ourselves to God’s indwelling, we may find that we have some interior work to do. We may need to open the windows of our senses and let the Spirit in. We may need to clean out the clutter that we call sin, or to continue to open the door to our hearts by continuing to go to church, to pray, to serve, and to give.
When we finally come home, we discover that we are not alone. We discover that the secret place of prayer is not so secret. We discover that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, by the communion of saints from the past, present, and future. We discover our interdependence on generations of that have gone before us.
As we come home, we are empowered to do greater things. We act in ways that are not self-serving. We feed the hungry, practice compassionate listening, love family members in their most difficult moments, forgive that co-worker, or practice gratitude.
On this fifth Sunday of Easter, on Mother’s Day, Jesus like the mother bunny calls us to come home. Jesus calls us to:
Come home to your God-given beloved-ness.
Come home to your passions and dreams.
Come home to be reconciled with your loved ones.
Come home to see new ways of relating to creation.
May you come home… If you don’t know the way, if you get lost, may you hear the One who like the mother bunny, will come after you. Be it through the voice of friends, family, and even the stranger; so that where God is, there together, we may also be. Amen.