God makes a home in us
Sixth Sunday of Easter. Fr Robert Eccles preaches on the meaning of home, controversy and household of faith.
Father Vincent McNabb has been dead for sixty years, but some of his sayings are still remembered. To his Dominican brethren he once said:
Our priory must be home for us, home with a small h. If it is not, it will speedily become a Home with a big H.
In other words, if this isn’t a house where we can make a home for one another and welcome people who come to see us, it can only be an institution, a Home to house inmates.
It’s important that when you come to the door of a Dominican house you are coming into our home, even if it may be an odd-shaped one. We are part of the neighbourhood because we have a real home here, and shop and cook and garden and so on for one another.
I suppose home means different things for us, as it does for you. For young people home is somewhere to light out from; as we get older it is a place to come back to. Then some people have home-making skills, others don’t. There are Doctors of Divinity here in Brussels who don’t know where the kitchen is!
I used to get invited home by university students when I was a chaplain, and it was interesting to be there at the moment when they discovered that if you cut a grapefruit along instead of across, it is impossible to eat it with your spoon. Also that the vacuum cleaner doesn’t vaporise the dirt in its intestines, it needs to be emptied out from time to time.
There are people who are contented at home and can’t be pushed out of the nest, aren’t there? And there are people who have had a good home and are happy to leave it for the adventure of being on their own. Then there are those who have never really had a home and are always looking for one, perhaps without realising.
Some friends of mine made a comfortable home for themselves but found it somehow incomplete, so they made a corner with an icon and a candle and a bible and a vase of flowers, where they could go and be still. It sounds a funny thing to say, they said, but we feel we can invite the Lord to come in and be at home with us. Like the two disciples who invited the stranger to come in at Emmaus, you remember.
Faith needs signs and images to feed on, if it is to grow. The last and grandest of signs is the home, for our final home is in God. Of course home is an ambiguous, a double-sided sign. Home can be where we are happiest and most unhappy too.
The Church is supposed to be the house of God, but like any other home it can be the scene of controversy and argument. We found the history of an argument in the Acts of the Apostles just now. Some traditional Jewish Christians came from Jerusalem to tell the recent converts at Antioch, who hadn’t ever been Jews: Unless you are circumcised, you cannot be saved. Whereupon disagreement and argument broke out, which was eventually settled in Jerusalem, in the first Council of the Church.
It’s a mistake to think that the household of the faithful must be immune from controversy. A placid family where people never disagreed would be deadly. A Church or an Order with no disputed questions wouldn’t be alive.
The disagreements amongst Christians aren’t always a sign of disloyalty and ill-will. They rather show how alive the gospel is, and how the Spirit is still with the Church leading us into all the truth.
But whatever differences and controversies break out, we do need the Church of Christ to be our spiritual home. This must be the place where the beloved disciple may lean back. It must be where we make a home for one another, the place where everyone finds acceptance, for we have one Father, God.
There just isn’t anyone who is more fortunate or privileged in the sight of God. There isn’t any advantage here in being wealthier, or fitter, or saner, or born with more respectable genes, or whatever. Jesus says,
Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.
Even if we have no home, God makes a home for us in the eucharist. Each of us can say and mean:
Lord, I am not worthy that you should come under my roof: only say the word, and I shall be healed.
The Risen Lord himself comes in to eat with us, and we with him. Life together around this table gives us a taste for our final home, when we shall be citizens of a city lit by the glory of God.