“Going home.” The words or just the thought can prompt an immediate response. Your heart may suddenly be filled with emotions packed as tight as a can of sardines. And some of those emotions may smell just as bad. They may be rooted in family relationships, old friends and acquaintances, pleasant (or unpleasant) memories, distance to travel, how long you’ve been away.
And, oh, the changes. Always, there are the changes – some may please you, some will not. The changes can make it a bittersweet time, indeed.
This spring and summer, my trips back home from Tupelo to north Alabama have been for varied reasons. One was the annual “decoration” (known by some as Memorial Day) at the cemetery where my parents were buried across the road from Antioch Methodist Church. I moved away 32 years ago, but I don’t think I’ve missed an Antioch decoration; I grew up there and can’t imagine missing it. Then there was the funeral of a close family friend. And a day spent at the Murphree Convention – yes a convention, not a reunion – with the Murphree Genealogical Association. Oh, and there was the hot, humid July day at Brasher Springs Camp Meeting, an old-fashioned, sawdust-floored, open tabernacle cooled only by ceiling fans. A Murphree relative was one of the founders generations ago.
In this season of life – at age 70 – the question often arises, either from friends and family or in my own mind: “Are you going home to Alabama when you retire?”
I don’t know. Haven’t any idea. Partly because I’m not even thinking about retirement. Well, not much, anyway. And, while my Alabama home still has its grip on my heart, I dearly love Tupelo. It’s a bit like dual citizenship.
A Different Kind of Going Home
My recent treks to the place I still call home have coincided with one of my spring Bible studies. I’ve been challenged as I’ve studied a different kind of “going home” in the book of Ezra. Jeremiah had prophesied the return of God’s people to Jerusalem after decades of exile in Babylon.
Ezra – scribe, teacher, and priest – was the leader God chose to challenge and equip His people for the return to their homeland. Ezra exemplifies a life turned over to God. He studied the Scriptures, he believed God’s Word, and he obeyed. He was a model of hope and encouragement for the people. After all, they faced a number of unknowns, and we’re told that they feared the local residents who had taken over their old home. Yet they persisted.
Sometimes – too often – I have to experience this kind of spiritual going home. Back home to a faith that I’ve let grow weak. Back home to commitment and discipline in my walk with Jesus. I need an Ezra in my life. And I need the example of God’s faithful people as they found their way back to their homeland, and then found their way back to a restored relationship to Him.
From Reconciliation to Rededication
Upon their return, the Israelites first rebuilt the altar. Why the altar? Wouldn’t the foundation be the place to start? No, they started with the altar because here was the place where they could begin reconciliation. With humility and confession, they built the altar and offered sacrifices.
After observing the festivals and offering sacrifices, the people turned to rebuilding the foundation. When the foundation was completed, they rejoiced. The priests put on their robes and led the people in celebrative worship. Ezra 3:11 (NLT) tells us, “With praise and thanks, they sang this song to the Lord: ‘He is so good! His faithful love for Israel endures forever!’”
Then they remembered. Some of the returned exiles could recall the first temple, and Ezra says they wept aloud when they saw the new foundation. It’s always good to remember our roots, to think on the pillars of our faith that endure the years and encourage us regarding the future.
Next, the children of God encountered some major obstacles. Non-Jews living in the land did everything they could to stop the rebuilding. Subsequently, work on the temple stopped for years. In fact, it was some 20 years before the rebuilding was finished. And they dedicated the new temple even as they rededicated their lives to their loving and forgiving God. Ezra expresses it this way: “The Temple of God was then dedicated with great joy by the people of Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the people who had returned from exile.”
So when given the courage and strength for one more “going home,” God’s exiled people illustrate the very principles I need to employ when I return from my own, typically self-imposed, personal exile: reconcile, rejoice, remember, rededicate. Simple and sensible, but not always easy. That’s why I’m grateful for every Ezra and every faithful follower God puts in my path when I need them.