In 1994 I was as far from home as I had ever been. I traveled with three others to Kiev, Ukraine on a three week mission to train youth workers in the many new churches being established after the opening of the former Soviet Union to the “west”.
It was an exciting trip full of fruitful ministry, new friends, experiences, some strange food, customs and culture. There were many aspects making this a real adventure. However, I found myself in a foreign land, at times homesick.
We arrived after forty hours of travel and went to work immediately. After three days were visiting in a local church and I was asked to preach (the first time I had ever done this with an interpreter). The music in this congregation was stellar. The choir was made up exclusively of members of the Ukrainian National Opera Company. As a greeting to these four young American men they opened the service singing America the Beautiful. I melted into a puddle, weeping. Not only was it the most beautiful rendition I had ever heard, in that moment I longed for my homeland.
I never before felt more like a foreigner, a stranger and an alien as when I was in that moment. I was in a temporary exile. When I returned home I was a different man. The homecoming was joyous
Israel knew this posture. The Jews in exile in Babylon, lamented for their home, the Promised Land. There was an aching longing full of grief. Psalm 137 captures their sadness.
Since those days in Kiev, I have traveled the world much more extensively. The first time I was in England I found myself strangely at home. This where my father’s family hails from and when I was in England my heart resonated with a tactile familiarity that made being there different. I was somehow connected to that luscious landscape and recognized and deeply felt my English roots.
Two thoughts, take-a-ways…
First, as Christian I understand myself to be an exile. The Church overall is understood as being in exile awaiting the consummation of the Kingdom of God. We are foreigners and strangers in this land. I love my country; my family has fought, struggled, prospered and thrived for eight generations in this nation called America. But it fades in comparison to the single and ultimate allegiance to Christ and His Kingdom. So I wait for and hope in the promise of the King’s return to take me to a place prepared for me; a room in my Father’s House. (John 14:2)
Second, I will have moments in this life glimpsing Christ and His Kingdom, my true and ultimate home. The “tuning fork” in my heart will resonate and begin to chime reminding me of my eternal and ultimate destination. My experience when on English soil is rich but it fails in comparison to those moments where by faith I touch eternity and see my future as a child and heir of Christ’s Kingdom. The cure I have at Canterbury is a joyous one because in this sacred space close to everything, I discover afresh, almost daily the deep and abiding presence of God made manifest on these blessed acres. It is heeding this charge from Colossians 3:1-4 (Amplified Bible)…
“IF THEN you have been raised with Christ [to a new life, thus sharing His resurrection from the dead], aim at and seek the [rich, eternal treasures] that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. And set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things), not on the things that are on the earth. For [as far as this world is concerned] you have died, and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in [the splendor of His] glory.”
There is plenty of lament in this world. We see it in the poor and oppressed, the refuges ravaged by violence and war; the rampant injustice destroying life. There is enough “want” in every aspect of culture. BUT there is hope for a King and His Kingdom and when we set our affection there we are never disappointed.
I discovered a beautiful verse from Cecil Spring Rice who in the midst of the First World War expressed his desire for the Kingdom. It is a song for all of us to find we are exiles awaiting our return home…
And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.