This coming Sunday at our church is our traditional Homecoming Sunday. But of course this coming Sunday we are not coming home. At least not to the church building. This Sunday, as has been true for the last six months, we will be “gathering together” online.
Over the course of the last six months we have become more proficient at this way of connecting. I cannot say enough good about how we have learned to be together virtually. Nevertheless, I know that some people have gotten lost along the way. Sometimes even the directions of how to get there can be confusing. And even when we are “together,” we miss being together. What does “Homecoming” look like in this isolating time?
I get that. One comedian tells of getting lost in a strange city. He spots a cab driver and, certain that person will know the way to his destination, asks, “How do I get there?”
The cab driver answers, “OK. Here’s what you need to do. Just go down this street here to the second light. . . . No wait, that’s not right. Go to the third light. . . Yes, the third light. Then stop and ask someone there. They might know.”
In an effort to recognize the complexities of Homecoming this September, a church member suggested that we rename this Sunday “Hopecoming.” I like that. Even when we cannot gather together in one place, we can still hold on to hope.
So as I prepared for Hopecoming this week, I took some time to review the worship services our church has offered over the past six months. It was quite something to go back to mid-March, and those first services, when we were learning a tremendous amount about what not to do. We were also, I could tell, throwing ourselves into action with all the energy we could summon.
Now, six months later, that early energy is spent. Now we are in a time of settling in to something deeper. We have all come to realize that this will be a marathon. With very few mile markers. And an uncertain finish line. How do we get there?
The early church knew something about marathons. They came to discover, no matter their initial enthusiasm for the Jesus path, that individual energy would not carry them through the long and challenging journey of following Jesus. They knew they would have to summon something deeper than their individual strength and their stubborn strong will to support them when their own energy and optimism was worn away.
So it turns out the journey to Hopecoming is just as hard as Homecoming these days too. So a few days ago, when a friend posted this sign on social media, I instantly identified. In these days, I am not sure which directions to follow.
But maybe it is when I am feeling lost that hope can really show up. Not optimism- that light, airy, “it will all work out” attitude. But hope- deeply rooted, drawing from the deepest wells. even in the face of droughts that dry up any surface water or shallow streams.
When I read the writings of the early church, I catch glimpses of that kind of hope. Listen to these words from II Corinthians: “We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God, and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.“ (II Cor. 4:7-9)
Perhaps faith, genuine faith, comes only when in I realize that I cannot make it through my current situation on my own power. Perhaps hope, genuine hope, comes only when my optimism comes crashing down around me. Perhaps despair is the only way to genuine joy.
It is hard to admit this possibility. Of course I prefer the easier path. And my heart breaks for the suffering in our world, not just my own, but the groaning of all creation. But as others have answered when asked for directions to an easy path to hope, maybe the only answer is “You can’t get there from here.”
To any who are reading this and feeling that hope is far away, let me suggest that perhaps this path is like a labyrinth. Those who have walked one know that it can be just when you feel the most lost and that this turn you are taking will take you farther rather than closer to your destination- just then- you will suddenly find yourself home. Labyrinths are actually designed that way. Maybe because the designers know that life is so often that way too.
So let me offer you comfort, wherever you are. Isaiah says it this way, in speaking words of comfort to his own hurting community: “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31).
Perhaps you can run right now. Or it could be you are simply walking. Maybe all you can do is wait. Let us wait together then. With you, I will walk to the second signal. No wait, the third. Then we’ll stop again and ask for more directions. Together, one step at a time, with God’s help, let’s find our way to hope and home.