“Far and Away” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

ireland

Personally, I have never had much of a relationship with St. Patrick’s Day.

I mean no offense by that.

To those among us who remain rooted emotionally to the old sod, I think that’s great.

I’m looking forward to corned beef and cabbage and dancing right here later today.

I grew up watching movies like “The Quiet Man” — we always liked the Duke in my family. And later, of course, “Far and Away.”

The Irish-American writer, Frank McCourt opens Angela’s Ashes, his wonderful memoir about early life and of his mother, by noting that “Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

Who isn’t hooked by a line like that?

But there are things I’ve never really understood.

Once when I was in college, I went to a winter formal or something, and someone’s date who I didn’t know was sitting at my same table, wearing an elaborate white dress covered with Kelly green shamrocks …and it was like old home week to sit with her. All kinds of people, most of them strangers, came over to pay their respects, as if she was some sort of celebrity.

Likewise, early in my teaching days, I had a boss who had been surprised with the gift of a doll with bright red hair and a green dress with a tam o’shanter. The doll was sitting up on a chair in her office, and if you were there for a meeting, which I was, the doll was sitting there kind of as if she was part the meeting, too, with her head turned as if she was thinking about the last point someone had just made.

I said something non-committal about like, “Nice doll,” and my boss picked it up lovingly, with her eyes suddenly a little moist, and said meditatively, “Isn’t she Just. So. Beautiful.”

And still to this day I have no idea what that was about…but on some level, it seemed to be vaguely about Ireland.

All nations have their quirks, of course. I grew up with people who seem to feel kind of the same way about Red Label.

Over the last several weeks, you may have seen the movie, “Black Panther,” or read about its incredible resonance with many, particularly in the African-American community, and particularly in its portrayal of the mythical African nation of Wakanda.

Wakanda is a place of tremendous beauty and unique natural resources, deliberately cut off by its leaders for its own protection from the rest of the outside world, except for its scholars, who are sent all over the world to learn and return, which has made the nation one of the most technologically advanced on earth.

Closed and therefore free to flourish, Wakanda is able to give birth to and to nurture men and women who become remarkable heroes and heroines.

On some level, of course, this is fairly familiar science fiction kind of fare, and yet you’ve probably seen that for many viewers, the movie “Black Panther” has tapped into something very real…something very personal.

It has tapped into a particular kind of dream of home — a dream of a world that should be.

If you see it that way, it seems clear that the nation of Wakanda is much more than a comic book kingdom.

It is a myth in the best and deepest sense.

Some people seem to think that to call something a myth is a put-down. It’s a way of saying that a story isn’t true.

But that’s not right.

It’s much more accurate to say that myth is a way of talking about what things mean, instead of simply about what happened when…which if you think about it, is often really the least of it.

Think what a profound question it actually is when someone asks us, “Where are you from?”

The true answer to that question can be so hard to explain.

II.

It can be especially hard to explain in the case of Jesus, of course.

Jesus was sort of from Nazareth, but sort of from Bethlehem; sort of from Galilee, but sort of from the Jerusalem Temple, which as a young boy, he called “his father’s house” and seemed surprised that anyone would be looking for him anywhere else.

To his own disciples, he was clearly from God, although they weren’t entirely sure what that meant while he was with them, and as it turned out, Easter ended up showing that because he was from God, he still was with them…but that’s something that turned out to introduce a lot more questions than it answered.

Jesus’ mother and siblings seem to have been part of his circle at least now and again during his ministry, though at one point early on, we’re told that they show up to try and take him home to Nazareth — and it’s at this moment when he says that they aren’t his true family, at all — that now he sees that his true family is not his flesh and blood, but really the company of seekers he has begun to gather.

His true family is the circle of those in search of what things mean.

Blood may be thicker than water, but for Jesus, insight into the true meaning of things is stronger than death.

As he would prove with his own life.

But through it all, there shines this longing for home.

A home that Jesus understood we could only truly find in God.

III.

We should note in passing that St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, thought that, too.

You don’t need to believe in the traditional understanding of saints to recognize that by any standard, Patrick was a remarkable person.

Patrick lived in the late fifth century, not in Ireland, but on the island of Great Britain, and he was captured around the time he was sixteen by Irish pirates and taken as a slave for six years, during which he mostly cared for animals, before escaping and finding his way home.

He came from a Christian family, although his faith before his enslavement had not been particularly strong. Yet his time in exile was important for his faith, and when he returned home, he decided to become a priest.

One day, he had a vision. He saw a man coming and sensed that he was coming from Ireland, and he was bearing a letter to Patrick that said, “We appeal to you, holy servant boy, to come and walk among us.”

And so he did, becoming the most important apostle to the Celtic tribes of Ireland… the very place of his own abandonment and enslavement.

Where do the courage and commitment come from that would enable someone to do something like that?

Why didn’t he just go home and find some very safe place that was sure to be beyond the reach of any pirates and live out his days there?

We don’t know — not in terms of the historical record, anyway.

But it seems clear that for all that Patrick had been through, he knew that his true home was not Britain, or even Ireland.

His true home was in God.

And he knew that whatever fears he might harbor given all that he’d been through, even so, the place where he belonged now was among the people who longed for their own true home in God.

Back to Ireland he went.

IV.

This morning we heard the words of the prophet Jeremiah from the Old Testament.

He preached, “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt…But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

It’s a vision, not unlike Patrick’s vision.

It’s a vision of a world where law of God isn’t found in the words written in a book, but rather found in the longing that is written on our hearts.

That longing for our true home.

Admittedly, we are complicated people.

But today we are reminded of how important it is to listen for the longing in our hearts — to open ourselves to the dream of home that lies within us.

Maybe we know it well.

Maybe that longing is even as yet unspoken, unimagined, dormant as Sleeping Beauty, waiting only to be loved into waking at last.

But as we prepare for Holy Week and Easter, may we hear God’s invitation to listen for it, remembering how it is through that longing that God calls each and every prodigal back home.

Amen.

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