dispatches to and from

nathan f. elmore

Dispatches to and from faith, culture, and things in between

Almost Home

Is it that classically beautiful image of attraction via common interests, or maybe that tried-and-true image of shared experience or history? Is it a revealing psychological portrait of human identity -- of being so genuinely known by another someone? Is it a photo collage of memorable and meaningful particulars – a listening ear; a word of comfort; an unusual moment; an embrace; a hard but timely intervention? Or is it a canvas describing the character of a person, the deep virtue of a person, the way she has come to desire what is good for you above even herself, the way he evidences his care for you above even himself? What do you picture when you see a truly good friend?

On Maundy Thursday, we consider that otherworldly reflection of the face of God in that Person who entered our world and who eventually set his face to go to Jerusalem in order to make divine friendship possible.

 

For Maundy Thursday 2011, I was asked to give the chapel homily at the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. Here is the homily I offered. It came in the form of a story that mostly really happened.

 

But I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. {Jesus, according to John}

Driving back from Short Pump Town Center, on I-64 East toward Richmond, having purchased a new 3-in-1 printer/copier/scanner for The Center at VCU, having begun to worry a bit for my wife’s grandfather who, at 88, had been recently hospitalized with aspiration pneumonia, I asked my Lord this question: What shall I say to the people, and to myself, on the day commemorating the day before the day you died a long time ago?

I believe you are the Lord of Heaven and Earth, and I believe you are in the habit of speaking to us. So would you please speak?

I waited. And waited.

I waited while I drove down I-64, in the middle lane, no radio on, cars and trucks buzzing by. I was on my way home.

Sometime after the Parham Road exits, I heard a voice say: “Tell them what I’ve told them time and again. And please use the Book.” Then, as if God was speaking to me personally -- the minister-priest who was trying to listen, yes, but the sinner who was listening more – I heard: “Just say, ‘This is my beloved Son; with him I am well pleased.’” Right away, in some unmentionable place in my heart, I have to admit: I questioned whether that was enough.

Distracted, I began looking down at my BlackBerry, which was lying in the passenger seat looking up at me and blinking with all manner of urgent importance. What a little marvel of culture and technology. This thing can connect me to anyone and to everywhere in an instant. The 21st-century must be the grandest of all the things that are well-pleasing.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, I-64, and: “This is my beloved Son; with him I am well pleased."

 

I waited.

And somewhere near the Staples Mill exit, I heard the voice: “Just say, ‘Your father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’”

As it was dinnertime, I was especially grateful for the practical reminder. I found myself drifting off, rehearsing the price-conscious restaurant selections in the vicinity of this familiar exit: Panera, Five Guys, Sticks Kebab. By now I was in a thoroughly delightful trance – not remotely concerned with highways. In fact, it felt very much like I was in a remixed version of Peter’s famous vision of food, and I was the god declaring everything good enough to eat. My white sheet was filled with bowls of wild mushroom soup, grilled burgers and fresh-cut fries, and a lamb kebab over white rice with a creamy cilantro-lime sauce on the side.

Should I take this exit or continue processing this homily idea for the Maundy Thursday chapel? Ahead, the brake lights snapped me out of my food reverie. At the least, I really should pull over to the shoulder to write this story down.

Is this how John, that beloved friend of Jesus, might have felt when he heard his friend say those nourishing words: “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." Honestly, someone needs to write that down.

Notwithstanding, I kept driving. I had told my wife, after all, that I’d be home at a certain time.

 

I drove quietly – and I kept waiting.

Finally, my exit came into sight: I-195/Laburnum Avenue. I’m desperately close now. This is the road that always leads to the place I call home.

At the stop sign at the bottom of the exit, I turned onto Laburnum, and I heard: “Just tell them: ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens.’"

Nearing home, I suddenly remember: oh man, coming soon there will be a royal battle between two children over the property rights of a crayon or a Zhu Zhu pet. Like clockwork. And I will be forced to mediate. In addition, there will be a 9-year-old who will present a very sophisticated argument about how not showering for four days makes better environmental sense.

But then I also remember: my wife, my friend, is there -- waiting.

As I cross Hermitage Road, the A.P. Hill monument on my left, I am emotionally overwhelmed. I feel so known by her. I am touched by how deeply she cares for me – above even herself.

In a flash I see the face of God in her friendship, the reflection of his eternal friendship. Surely I am not a stranger or an alien to my wife – and also to my God, who brings me near.

 

By now, my blinker is on.

Only one more turn.

Is the wait over?