A homily for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, which was our Annual Meeting at the Church of the Epiphany, Euclid
The other morning I happened to pick up my phone before I got out of bed. This is very unusual; I try to follow the advice of the professionals and leave my phone behind when I am trying to sleep. But no matter; the phone was there, I picked it up, and it caught a ray of sunlight coming through the blinds and flashed it across the far corner of the room.
The cats love random flashes of light. They sit and jabber at them when they land on the ceiling, and chase them around the room like laser pointers. Now, every morning since the phone incident, the gray cat has woken me by poking around in the corner, calling softly for the flash of light she once saw there. She doesn’t understand that the conditions that produced the effect were a one-off combination that I might not be able to reproduce even if I tried: the exact angle and brightness of the sun, the exact angle at which I held my phone, the circumstances that had led me to have it in my hand in the first place.
Eventually she gives up and comes to lean against my legs until I have to leave the warmth of our little nest.
Watching her yesterday morning, I thought of the ways in which we all look to recreate events and conditions from the past that might not be available or relevant or even desirable any more. When the magi left the manger, they returned home by another road, and had they decided to return to Bethlehem, to visit the child and his mother once more, or had they sent their friends to follow up, they would not have passed through Herod’s palace again, looking for directions. They would not have found the holy family in the same place, either; they had fled to Egypt.
Even Jesus, returning to his familiar family synagogue at Nazareth discovered that it was not the same as when he was a child. He quoted proverbs to the people – not biblical proverbs, but adages and idioms they had once taught him: Physician, heal thyself; and the one we all know, hanging in the background, cross-stitched into the air: You can’t go home again.
Conditions change, the world turns, people grow, some get sick, some get better, some flee to Egypt, some return. We cannot expect, nor should we try, to recreate the past; but there is sunlight in the future, too, and flashes of inspiration. And there is warmth still in the relationships that endure. The cat, when she has given up on the flash of light, curls up in the patient knowledge that sooner or later, someone with warm legs will feed her; that she is beloved.
Jesus went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom; and he continued to do so throughout his ministry. His relationship with God, with the prayers of his people, with the scriptures and their shared meaning for the gathered people: these were the warm places that he returned to again and again, knowing that they would feed him even as he paid out healing and hope wherever he went.
It is love that holds us together, after all: the love of God that reassures us that we will be fed, forgiven; the love that we have for one another, that has its moments of regret when we see whom we are missing; the love that Jesus has planted in our hearts, Christ’s love for the world, his longing to set it free.
Some things are constant; others are ephemeral, tricks of light in a mirror. We put our faith, if we are wise, in that which will endure. I am not saying that nothing will ever be the same again, although it’s true that we cannot visit the same moment twice. But we are not dependent upon flashes of light appearing in the same place twice for our faith, our hope, nor our love. We know the warmth of God’s love that sustains us, the warmth of the love of this community that surrounds us. However the conditions change and shift and wherever the light comes from this year, God has proven God’s constancy toward us. The Word of the Lord is with us, for us to plant and to build us up, our warm refuge, and our strength.