Preached at All Saints’ Cuddesdon on Sunday 17th May 2015 by Rev’d Dr Emma Pennington.
Readings: Acts 1:15-17, 21-end and John 17: 6-19.
There is a lovely scene in the recent film adaption of the Michael Bond Paddington Bear books, when Paddington meets Mr Gruber for the first time. It’s tea time and a toy steam train appears, as if from nowhere, across the back of the study full of interesting sights and smells, until it stops in front of Mrs Brown, Paddington and Mr Gruber. Hot tea is poured from a tap in the train’s engine and the carriages are full of delicious cakes that Paddington immediately devours. Mr Gruber comments that a long time ago he had travelled on such a train. ‘Was it hard to find a home’ asks Paddington earnestly and Mr Gruber tells his story. When he a young boy his home became very dangerous, so his parents packed him off on a train to travel the length of Europe alone. He was met at the station by a great aunt who took him in. ‘I had travelled fast a very long way,’ he wistfully said, ‘my heart, it took a little longer’.
This week we have heard another terrifying story in a catalogue of events which have described the desperate lengths whole families and children will go to leave their homes and risk journeys across high seas in overcrowded and inadequate boats for the hope of a new home. From the 6,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing persecution in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, who are stranded in the Andaman Sea in south-east Asia due to the policy adopted by Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia which prevents their boat from landing, to the many more fleeing atrocities in north Africa who are daily rescued from sinking ships or dinghies in the Mediterranean sea, that story Mr Gruber tells is for many a present and perilous reality, not a history of a more barbarous past.
For many of us living in comfortable Cuddesdon the plight of those people who have lost their homes is tragic and calls for compassion and generosity. We may not have experienced the fear and desperation that caused them to risk their lives but all of us can at some level relate to what it is like to have to leave a home which has been built up and loved to move to another place and start again. The generation who can boast that they were born, bred, lived and died in one village or even one house is dying out, as most of us these days for one reason or another move around and live in a variety of communities or countries even which were not originally our own. From housing prices which young families cannot afford, to going where a job takes us, even as far as New Zealand or Quatar, we are a more transient generation and notion of home is less and less associated with where we were born or grew up. Home is indeed where the heart is, but as the migrant in Paddington states, creating a home can take a little longer, for the heart does not always travel as quickly as may the body, despite the eagerness with which the body might wish to travel.
Of course, today we say farewell to a number of people who must once again pack up their bags and move on to begin the process of finding and building a new home, of learning new names and where the local supermarket is, of finding out where the missing bathroom is in the middle of the night, as well as getting used to the collar round the neck and the hidden ‘expectations’ on the Curate’s husband and her children, sorry, no shouting at each other anymore, clergy children just don’t do that sought of thing, do they!! On this of all days, when we fondly say farewell to them we are given our gospel reading as a gift to us and them. For, after your years of education in this august establishment, you now know that our reading is part of a much longer section in John’s gospel known as the Last Supper or Farewell Discourses. Over the last three Sunday’s we have heard the three discourses on departure and return, the true vine and the indwelling of the Spirit. Now we come to the final discourse which is a prayer by Jesus.
In many ways it is the final words of someone who is moving on, who is worried about those he is leaving behind. His words are all directed to the Father but as you know, if you have ever experienced someone praying over you, the words and intentions are really for you to hear, God of course already knows. What he says is that he has done everything he was sent to do: he has made the Father’s name known to us, we have believed and in so doing glorified God. Now he begs that the Father will look after us, for there will be difficult times ahead and he will no longer be around. Up to this point, Jesus’ prayer is everything you would expect from someone who is going away to reassure those who are left behind that they will be all right, they will be in the Father’s keeping.
But, this is not just anyone who is embarking on a new venture, it is Christ and when he places us within the keeping of the Father, it is not just a hopeful blessing. In the last section of the prayer he reveals that with his departure everything has changed for us, through our faith in him we have been sanctified and as a result our home has radically changed. No longer is our home in this world, where we are born, live, work and die, but our home is with him which is above, within, beyond and around all that we have ever experienced or could ever experience as home. It is as if it is we who have suddenly travelled a very long way and found that our heart was there all the time.
So we speed you all on your way as you journey to different places and new experiences, rejoicing that all of us share one home, our truest and most real home with our Lord above, mindful that we must always welcome the stranger amongst us, for we are all strangers until we meet in Christ and delight in the home to which our heart has already gone before. Amen.