A woman made a comment to me after visiting here recently. “I barely recognize this place but it still feels like home.” It had been over forty years since she had been to St. John’s but it had been her church home at an important time in her life. She talked about all the things that were different: the renovated parish hall, the new kitchen, the new classroom and office building, how the Coca-Cola plant was no longer next door. But then she said that as soon as she got close to the building she felt the same old pull that she had felt those many years ago. “It’s still home”, she said, “and I guess it always will be.”
Part of me felt sad that she doesn’t really have a church home right now. There is no place in her life that pulls her in and connects her with grace on a regular basis. Her life in many ways is void of that sense of community. Another part of me was moved that she still felt connected here in a particular way.
Most everyone who comments on our buildings talks either about beauty or history. It is an inspiring place aesthetically and it has stood throughout many historical changes in the city and the Episcopal Church. This woman didn’t say anything about either of those, however. She talked about the feel of home. She even said that when she closed her eyes the feeling was more profound. Appearance wasn’t all that important to her. The place makes her feel safe and secure.
As we talked it became clear that the years she spent here were tumultuous ones in her personal life. Her marriage was shaky but she couldn’t leave the relationship. Her finances were in a shambles but she really didn’t have many options for improving them. She felt dependent, vulnerable, and frightened. During all that the church exuded a sense of peace and calm. She couldn’t really articulate it with many words but the softness in her eyes said a lot.
God’s grace is such that, when we are most vulnerable and feeling alone, a sense of hope is available to us. Some of us are fortunate enough to have a physical place that helps us feel grace. Some of us have friends or support that we draw on when we need it. This woman was a little different. She shared with me that, to this day, when she is having the hardest time, she closes her eyes and draws on the feeling of being home. It’s not her home she draws strength from. The sense of home that St. John’s gave her more closely expresses her hope. But even that doesn’t say it all. This isn’t her home anymore. The home she imagines when she closes her eyes is her home with God.
Throughout human history, people have suffered and been oppressed, have been tortured in various ways and found themselves in varying degrees of pain. And most of us have learned about closing our eyes and drawing on hope that will not die. We imagine the end of our pain, being at rest, getting through our latest struggle. We come to depend on that little feeling of something bigger than us saving us from what appears ready to destroy us. We release our burdens into that something which is bigger than us and we feel relief. We open our eyes and the struggle is still there. But something has been felt that makes us realize the struggle will not always prevail
The Cross and Resurrection express this eternal and powerful sense of home that God issues forth into the world calling us into hopefulness. In times of despair that is our only real hope. In times of ease and plenty that is also our only hope but we sometimes know it more fully when times are hard.
Wherever we are we are never far from home, our home with Christ Jesus.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.