Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 13:31-35
Collect: O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from thy ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of thy Word, Jesus Christ thy Son; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
As Jesus says in today’s reading from Luke, “I must be on my way.”
We Americans are a restless and mobile lot.
Ask around your parish community some Sunday morning at coffee hour, and you are likely as not to find fellow parishioners who are transplants from down the road and across the country. Some will have found their way to this community for work; others, for marriage or retirement. Still others may even now be charting their next family or career transition and the move it will entail. Home for many of us today is at best a loose and elusive geographical term: here today, there tomorrow.
In many societies life is far different.
In such cultures, home is where you are born; and home is where you die. The span between birth and death is often spent in familiar village or countryside settings, raising a family, plying a trade, and working the fields. The land itself is home – and it does not change all that much from one generation to the next. After all, land is not exactly exportable. Home is permanent, fixed, and local.
In the ancient world, the gift of land from king or ruler was itself the gift of home – of identity and belonging. It was certainly so for the ancient Israelites, who traced their ultimate origins to Abram’s epic journey from a place far away, to the land which the Lord promised to give him. “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans,” the Lord tells Abram in our first reading today, “to give you this land to possess.” In taking possession of the land and inhabiting it, Abram – later Abraham – and his descendants become the Lord’s own people.
Jesus treads this same land centuries later, “casting out demons and performing cures,” as he reminds the Pharisees and Herod, and by extension us, in our gospel account. He makes his way from his home in Nazareth – where he is rejected by his own townspeople – to the holy city of Jerusalem. In some sense, his passage serves to remind us of Abram’s journey centuries before. But the land promised to those who will heed Jesus’ voice does not consist of acres and square footage but of the very kingdom of heaven.
Abram marks the Lord’s covenant with him and his descendants by a sacrifice of heifer, goat, ram, turtledove, and pigeon. The Lord, present in “smoking fire pot and flaming torch,” passes solemnly among Abram’s gifts and once again affirms his covenant and the gift of land – of home. But the sacrifice that marks our Lord’s new covenant and the gift of the kingdom is not that of young, unblemished animals, but his own death.
“Today, tomorrow, and the next day, I must be on my way,” says Jesus in recognition of the fate awaiting him in Jerusalem. Not even the warnings of presumably friendly Pharisees that “Herod wants to kill you” can dissuade him from his work and mission. His poignant pronouncement over Jerusalem, “the city that kills the prophets,” becomes prophecy of his own death on the cross. “On the third day,” concludes Jesus, “I finish my work.” His journey comes to its end. But his death and resurrection mark also the beginning of faith and redemption for us as his people.
Lent is our annual reminder of this reality – of the lasting covenant that has been forged with us at the cross and of the “land” that has been given to us as our heavenly home. As Paul tells us in our second reading from his Letter to the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Abram’s faith in God’s promise was reckoned “to him as righteousness.” Today, our faith in God’s word and promise is reckoned to us as sign and assurance of our true citizenship in heaven.
Whether we are inveterate homebodies or weary road-warriors, our Christian faith nevertheless calls us away from places of comfort and the familiar – just as the Lord’s word millennia ago called Abram forth from his home in “Ur of the Chaldeans.” Like Abram, we too must be on our way. As followers of Christ, our journey is a sharing in the way of sacrifice, in the way of the cross.
Our first reading begins: “The word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, 'Do not be afraid.'" The same words are spoken to us. We have nothing to fear. “As a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” so our Lord has gathered us, his people. We are the Lord’s own people, and our heavenly citizenship makes us all “brothers and sisters” to one another.
In Christ, we are at last home.