This Sunday traditionally marks half way, the turning point, in the journey of Lent. Our readings (RCL Joshua 5:2-12; Psalm 32; 2 Corinthians 5:16-21; and Luke 15:11-32) speak to that sense of turning toward home, of transition from one stage of the journey to the next, and becoming a new creation. It comes with the discomfort of needing to let the old die away and the excitement of the emerging new state of being.
Let us begin with this curious moment in the great story of exodus and return for the chosen ones. They have just crossed out of the land of enslavement through the red sea and are now poised to enter into the promised land. But they must pause and be prepared for their new life with circumcision, or the renewing of the covenant in their own flesh (for all those born in the last forty years of wondering). And the supply of manna, which was the emergency rations of wilderness wonderings, comes to an end so that their hunger can be satisfied by food grown in their own new homeland. The promised land is in sight but letting go of what they knew and were used to in order to receive what was promised and desired was not without fear and pain and risk.
The psalmist talks of the need to acknowledge what is broken in our lives before we can experience the relief and comfort of forgiveness and reconnection. It is really quite a psycho-spiritual interior view of why we need to repent and to turn around rather than a moral or legalistic explanation.
And Paul in verse 17 “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see everything has become new!” This is the promise and the process. Paul as a good and educated Jewish man knew that the image of “a new creation’ was a reoccurring motif in Isaiah. The image or promise of a new creation, new heavens and a new earth, can be understood in two – not unconnected – ways. Firstly as the renewal of what already is: a restoration of the earth, the Promised Land and Jerusalem, and the covenant between God and the chosen people. Secondly it also has the sense of a fulfilment, a completion, an even better creation – that things for God’s people are going to get even better. Paul takes these understandings and claims that they have come to fulfilment in Jesus Christ and that therefore anyone in Christ is already a new creation. This has been achieved in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, is being realised in each of our lives, and is yet to be fully realised in the world.
And of course the wonderful and familiar (almost too familiar) parable of the outrageously generous father and the two sons speaks to this moment of choice, of coming to one self and choosing (or not) to turn toward home. Most of us know the wonderful details to look out for in this story – the requesting of one’s share of the inheritance before the father has died, the going to a far country, the working with pigs, the coming to one’s senses, the confession and repentance, the outrageousness of the father’s forgiveness, and the reluctance of the older responsible son to celebrate his brothers return.
In the season of Lent it is interesting to note the language of death and resurrection in this parable. The youngest son has treated his father as though he were dead in asking for his inheritance when he did. And then he becomes as though dead himself in his terrible circumstances. The younger son reaches a point of near deathness that leads him to come to his senses and having come to his right mind he turns toward home (where he will be happy to be an employee rather than a son). His father’s explanation for the need to celebrate is that this son had been as dead and has now become alive!
Interestingly although much closer to home to start with the older brother has a similar decision to be made – whether in his bitter hurt and disappointment he can find it in his heart to turn toward the home and join the celebration or to stay out in the night and ruminate. Although less exciting in a way to identify with the older brother for many of us we are, at least some of the time, in this position of being the good reliable faithful one and feeling underappreciated at times for our loyalty. The positive take is the reminder that we have had the pleasure and purposeful life of always being in the father’s presence and that as such this is the basis for our ongoing celebration.
The story of the prodigal son is not just a cautionary tale he is a role model of the spiritual journey for we all wander far from our true home. In some ways those who do it in visible externalised ways sometimes have an easier time of it because once they come to their senses, once they awaken to their situation, they are so aware of what is wrong and that they want to go home, that the early stages of repentance, conversion, return can be quite spectacular! But those of us who end up in the wilderness far from home by being good and responsible sometimes have a harder journey?! Harder because we tend to be proud or overly busy being responsible or caring of others and our hearts that were once tender have become hardened or depleted.
Wherever we are when we come to our senses, awaken to our spiritual situation, we need to be as honest with ourselves as the prodigal was and as desperate to get home as he was. And whether the party is thrown for us or for someone else there is a feast to attend, celebrating to participate in. And if we find ourselves a prodigal who has just staggered in the front yard then let us fall into the arms of our waiting loving parent. And if we are one of the older hard working siblings let us remember that we have the privilege and joy (if we keep our hearts open) of working beside the one we love most and being constantly in the company of our Beloved so we too have reason to rejoice. And if we are in the position of the parent who has been scanning the horizon for our dear one who is missing in action in the world then we can celebrate the joy and relief, the completion and wholeness of having our missing child back in our bosom, and we would do well to remember to celebrate the one who is always beside us!
Realising our lostness, coming to our senses and turning toward home are a deeply personal and unique moments in the individual spiritual journey. It is also as our story from Joshua reminded us the journey of a whole people. And as Paul understood it, there was a moment in spiritual history of the world of the great reconciliation or turning toward our true home that has been achieved for us, a path that has been created for us by Christ, and as such is a deeply shared experience. The season of Lent is one of those moments when we can know both the personal and collective nature of this process of becoming the new creation that Christ worked out in his body and heart and mind as one of us and for us. This is part of what we celebrate week by week in the Eucharist and season by season together as the body of Christ. This is the good news that awaits us as we turn toward Easter, as we turn toward home, as we turn toward Christ. It is the good news that awaits us inside every moment and event if we have the eyes of the heart to see.
Even so, come Lord Jesus the Christ, awaken us where we are and companion us home.