The Rev. Peter M. Carey
3 October 2010 Sermon
Emmanuel Episcopal Church
In the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
Have you ever experienced being homesick? Was it the first time at “sleep away camp”? Or, perhaps at your first “sleep over”? Maybe when you studied abroad. Or perhaps when you moved away from your hometown, or home state? Did work take you away from your comfort zone? Were you serving your country in another area of the world? When did you experience being homesick?
What was it that you longed for? Perhaps for the food that your parents cooked, or some regional specialty, or for a recognizable landscape. Growing up in an area of green trees, with rolling hills and farmland one could be thrown into a fit after moving to the high desert of New Mexico, or the urban landscape of New York City.
Perhaps it was the people, people who recognize you, people who know you. Seeing familiar faces on the street, familiar clothing styles, and a dialect that was so “home” that it doesn’t even seem to be a dialect at all. Or perhaps the language was totally new – rendering a talkative person in her hometown and home country to be rendered into a wallflower until some proficiency in language is reached. Perhaps the people look nothing like you, you may seem too tall, or too short, too formal, or too informal. You may be used to wearing shorts in the summer while everyone around would only bear their legs at the beach – where they might bear a lot more than you ever would think of doing in public!
Perhaps it was when you were quite young, and your longing for home included the familiar feel of your mom and dad. The familiar voices coming up the stairs as you fell asleep, the familiar routine of their mornings before you got up, and the familiar routine of their evenings after you were cuddled into bed. Being away at a friends house, or at camp would make you appreciate the familiarity all the more.
Perhaps your longing for home is something that is far harder to describe. Perhaps your own home was not one of universal love, was not one in which you felt safe, or secure. Perhaps, at times, home did not feel like home. So, your longing for home might be for a home that you never knew, and your restlessness may be for something intangible, seemingly just out of reach, but something you might taste, nonetheless. Even if our earthly homes were places of rest and safety and comfort, we might still experience these feelings of homelessness, and of restlessness. Our own feelings of homesickness may be rooted in our condition as humans. Our feelings of spiritual homesickness are likely pointing us to God. A famous wanderer, and spiritual seeker for his early and middle life, St. Augustine famously wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in thee, O Lord.” And so, we too long for something that we have, perhaps, only glimpsed in this world. We long for some fullness of the partial that we have experienced in our own homes.
In today’s psalm, we hear the plaintive words of a lamentation and of homesickness for the homeland of Jerusalem. In exile and in the midst of foreigners, the psalmist sits at the waters of Babylon and weeps for the lost homeland of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was seen as not only home on earth, but also the touchpoint where God was most present in the midst of the world. Jerusalem was seen as the ultimate “thin place” where heaven and earth, where sacred and profane, where God and humankind, and where the holy and the everyday stuff of the world intersected.
In Celtic spirituality, this term “thin place” describes these places where the holy is very close, where the boundaries between “this world” and the “next world” are very thin. For the psalmist, the loss of Jerusalem was perceived to be the loss not only of the cultural, familiar, and communal aspects of a home country of a homeland, but also the loss of the place where God was perceived to be most present. When the Temple of Solomon was destroyed, along with the Holy of Holies, and the people were marched to Babylon, it must have felt like Noah’s flood all over again.
In the flood, God destroyed the world that he made – but after the flood was the promise, in the sign of the rainbow, that God would not destroy it again. And so, the pouring out of sadness and lamentation in psalm 137 is so deep, so painful, and so heartfelt.
The homesickness of the psalmist is real, and it mirrors our own times of restlessness, of homesickness, of spiritual homelessness. We long for that place we experienced as a “thin place,” between heaven and earth. We long for that time or that place where we felt connected, where things were familiar. “How can we sing a song in a strange land?”
The condition of our lives is one in which these feelings are quite real from time to time, and perhaps more often than that. However, we also affirm that there is not solely one place that is a thin place, we affirm the fact that God is ever interacting with this world – even this wild world. The psalmist longed for Jerusalem, where God was perceived to have been most present on earth. However, God is present here, now, even in our lives when we are feeling rootless, restless, and homeless. There are “thin places” all around us. Do we take the time to notice? Do we move ourselves into a mindstate where we could even sense the fact that God is ever bridging the perceived gap between holy and everyday?
In Christ, God has become human. Notice the verb tense. In Christ, God has become human. It is not, “in Christ, God became human.” Actually, the English is quite awkward and unwieldy for what I really want to say. “In Christ God became human and has become human and is still human, and will continue to become human.” Or, “In Christ, God bridged the gaps between our homelessness and the ever restful home of God, and God still bridges these gaps and brings us home, a home like no home we have ever even been able to fully imagine.”
The psalmist sang the lamentation that we sing when we are homesick – and we have all experienced some of this homesickness – however this is not the final song of the opera. This is not the final track on the CD, this is not the song at the end credits of the film. No, the final song is one of deep home-ness. Of deep rest-ness, of deep and abiding love poured out for us, once before, but also now, and ever poured out for us. “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in thee, O Lord,” and they will, they will.