Reader, I wrote this over a month ago, full of the sadness of a dear one diagnosed with cancer, full of the loneliness of being homeless and yet bitterly homesick. I am in my new home now, but still, the truth is there, I think.
The land that I will show you. A good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Streets of gold, gates of pearl, lit by the lamp of the Lamb.
All throughout Scripture is a theme of homecoming -- or home-going, and the undercurrent of longing for that place of rest and plenty, a place of peace. Abraham was led by a God to a place he knew nothing about. Moses and the Israelites had forty years to ponder the sweetness of a rich land, a land all their own, as they journeyed from slavery to freedom through the desert of their grumblings. And we who are given the sign and seal of the blood of the Lamb are eagerly awaiting a New Heaven, a New Earth.
We feel the ache in our hearts that all is not right, that this world is not well, is not as it should be. When we blister and burn in the scorching sun, peel away ticks with horror and disgust, see relentless streams of impassive news anchors retelling stories of failing institutions and kidnapped children and bodies found in ditches, when our minds are set spinning by white-coated doctors, breaking to us diagnoses of our mortality, with words like Alzheimer's and autism and old age and most terrifying of all -- cancer.
All is not well! we cry. This is not right! We are sick, the world is sick! But we can fix it! And we sprint away to read self-help books and go to the gym with rigor and swear off meat and eggs and anything resembling a chemical. We visit Lifeway, go to yoga class, quote C. S. Lewis and forget to pray -- at least, I do.
These actions are driven by the desperation of fear -- and dear reader, they are in vain.
You and I, we are dying.
That dearly beloved one lodged deep in your aching heart, the one with the terrifying diagnosis, and you -- you both are dying, just the same. There is no difference on your medical record, nothing dissimilar about your heart or mind or cells: all of your charts read the same as mine: MORTAL. FLEETING. VAPOR. Maybe even you first. Maybe even me. And yet, as I type those words and look out the big picture window at the pecan tree gleaming and swaying with life in the Tennessee heat, my mortal, foolish heart does not believe it. Neither does yours.
But that dancing pecan tree, green with the promise of spring, makes my heart swell with life because we long for life, and life abundant. We long to live, to call a place home, to dig ourselves deeply into a place and a life, into people and things and the beauty of laughter and good food and fellowship -- to be at rest, to be truly at peace. And this longing is good, and right, because in Christ, we do not hope in vain. There is such a place. We ache for it, because without it, we are not whole. But because of Christ, we can be whole.
There is another tree, much much older and bigger than this southern pecan, in my new yard in Oregon. I have not seen it yet, but I have heard all about it. I've been told its trunk is over eight feet in diameter. I have heard the joy in my husband's voice as he described to me the green grass, the wide, wide yard, the fresh, rich garden soil he filled with seeds, the grape arbor, the rhubarb bush, the apple trees, the wood-burning stove, the wide den and the big windows full of light.
This is my new home, the home I am longing for and have not yet seen with my own eyes. I have heard of it, but I have not been there. And yet, how I long for it! How excited I am to see it, to root myself into it, to live and grow and love there!
I have had days, months, to long for this home, and even now, I still have weeks before I will see it myself, this green oasis of our little home on an Oregon farm, our own little promised land, prepared and given by the patient and gracious hand of our Father who loves and loves.
And this other home? The one in a new city, prepared in heaven with walls of gold so pure they are clear as glass? The one without any temple or church or even a moon, because all of those needs are filled in the presence of the Lamb, who will live there, too? This home is waiting, too, and I am longing. Oh, how I am longing! A city without fear or separation or anxiety or cancer or sorrow -- how I am longing! A home of such beauty, of such fullness of life that I could not comprehend it now -- how I am longing! A home where the dwelling place of God is with man and Eden not only restored, but perfected by the love of God in the sacrifice of His Son. Are you longing, dear reader? We have not seen it, yet we are longing for it, having heard of its glory and fullness and peace.
Red Mountain took an old hymn by Horatius Bonar and altered it, calling "All Things New." It pleads, "Come, for creation groans, / Impatient of Thy stay, / Worn out with all these long years of ill, / These ages of delay. / Come, and bring Thy reign / Of everlasting peace; / Come, take the kingdom to Thyself, / Great King of Righteousness."
We battle against death and hurt and aches and sorrows, against cancer and family disputes and child abuse and human trafficking -- and these are evils to be fought, worthy of our energy. We live in a world of brokenness and sin, powers of darkness that must be daily battled and struggled against by the grace and power of Jesus Christ. And we who bear the name of Jesus are called to bring the gospel of Light into this world of darkness.
But please, please, do not forget that these things shall pass. In some ways, in so many ways, they matter. Take care of yourself, of course, dear reader. Take care of others. Live a life of love, John says, because Jesus says. But. But. But this house, this town, this America, this church program, this idea or fad, this whole earth -- all these human institutions and ideas will fade. And only the gospel will remain. So let us cry that Word first and always, as other hurts and cultural issues come and go.
Your time here, the span of your days, is not contingent on what you eat or where you live or how well you follow all the rules or do your research properly. You have no idea the twists and plunges awaiting on this journey God is leading you on, so all we can do is hold out our hands to receive with the trust of a child, trusting in a good God who only gives good things. The stone you may see before you is no such thing. Jesus says so, more than once. A good God gives bread and water and wine, and life, and not only for your sake, but for the sake of all the world, of those you love and for His whole kingdom. It may crunch harshly on your teeth, it may burn like fire going down, it may even kill you -- but if it is given by His nail-scarred hands, if it comes from Him in love, then reader, it is good, because it is for good, true good, ultimate and lasting good.
So, rise, dear reader. Rise and go forth in hope. And think of home! Home is calling, Home is waiting, with such joys as are unfathomable -- because such joys are only present in the perfect, untainted presence of the Holy God. Live a life of love, of service, of thanksgiving. Live today, but long for tomorrow, for the green grass and sweet fruits and the Light of the Lamb awaiting you. No matter what lies before you.
Hope does not put us to shame, Paul says in Romans. Hope. I am hoping for a new home, a green home in Oregon and even more, a true home for ever and ever with my Lord. No crying, no sorrow, no hunger or thirst or darkness or death -- all shall be satisfied by my Jesus, who is Love and Bread and Water and Wine, who is the Sabbath, who is Light, who is Life, and the Only Wise God.
Further up, and further in!