Even after fifteen years in Adelaide, I still feel a bit homesick at Christmas. It usually starts when I write my Christmas cards and post them. Fortunately, last December kept me super-occupied with five Sunday services, and Poetry Church, newsletters to write, visits to make, and winding up various things in time for the summer break, so it was only on New Year’s Day that I found myself really stopping for the first time in weeks. And almost immediately, I started thinking about home. Homesickness hit me like a wave, and so, that afternoon of January 1st, I found myself booking return flights to England, and sending word to family and friends of my first visit home in eight years. Just looking now at my planned itinerary brings such a sense of excitement: a week in Somerset, staying at the old Fox & Goose, catching up with family and dearest friends in that part of the world, visiting the grave of a dear friend who died not long after my previous visit; and then a week or so travelling to other parts of the south to catch up with the other folks who I miss so much: my brother and I write to each other regularly, but we haven’t been in the same room as each other for over twenty years. And this April, I’ll be staying at his place, no doubt encouraging each other in ministry, and reminiscing about our old hiking trips to Switzerland and France…
Between all of the catching-up and the being-with, I’ve also set aside four days for solitary trekking in the English countryside. The route and the timing of the trip is quite deliberate: I plan to visit the sites of the snake’s head fritillary and the pasque flower, as well as the first two British flowering orchids – the early purple and early spider. There’s a pretty good chance of seeing the first three, but only the very slimmest chance of spotting the early spider orchid… Nevertheless, at the end of April, I hope to find myself on the clifftops of Dorset, on the hunt for something very rare and very special. Perhaps I really might just see the early spider orchid…
This week we move into Lent – the period from Ash Wednesday to Easter Saturday when we consciously make our way towards Holy Week. In this season, we are invited to reflect more deeply on how we are living in response to the Gospel. For some people, this may be a period of deliberate self-denial – going without, relinquishing the control something has over us, addressing poor habits, and reassessing what’s really important in our lives. Peter writes about revering Christ as Lord in our hearts. Lent provides an opportunity to do just that – to consider what or who we’ve placed on the throne of our hearts. Lent gives us a season in which we can do the work of stripping away the clutter and making room for God to reveal something new. In that sense, it’s a hopeful time. A time of anticipation. A time full of potential. We read in Scripture, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” Jesus says, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” No wonder the psalmist says, “I will listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for He speaks peace.” This Lent, we are invited to journey deeper with God, and to hear Him speak. Just as Paul prays for the church in Ephesus, that they would be strengthened in their core, with Christ dwelling in their hearts, rooted and grounded in love. That’s the opportunity waiting for us this Lent – a strengthening and grounding time.
And it’s not a vain hope! It’s not isolated or rare or impossible or risky. It’s not like searching for an impossible orchid in on a Dorset cliff ledge! Jeremiah says, if we seek God with all our hearts, we will find Him. That’s not a recipe for disappointment, but an invitation and a promise! No wonder David wrote, “May all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You.” There is joy in replacing the noise and the clutter, and making space for God.
Here is something wonderful: this Lent, even before I travel back to England to reconnect and retrace old steps, I can know home and belonging and family and the friendship of God right here, right now. That’s the opportunity that Lent provides. What if this Lent, I identified and handed back “all the vain things that charm me most,” – just like in the Isaac Watts’ hymn, and placed God ever more firmly at the centre of everything. Now that’s a cure for homesickness.
“Jesus, we enthrone You, we proclaim You our king
Standing here in the midst of all, we raise You up with our praise
And as we worship, build Your throne, and as we worship, build Your throne
And as we worship, build Your throne. Come Lord Jesus and take Your place.”
Scripture refs. from 1 Pet 3:15, Jas 4:8, Mt 11:28, Ps 85:8, Ps 42:7, Eph 3:16-17, Jer 29:13, Ps 70:4, Lam 3:25-26.
“Jesus, we enthrone You” lyrics by Paul Kyle, © Thank You Music Ltd.
Photo of the North Somerset levels where I grew up.