Home is anywhere you are. -- Tom Paxton
In my family we use the term gemuetlich to describe certain places or activities. It's a great German word; a word that Lewis Carroll would call a "portmanteau word"; a word packed with meaning. It's not easily translatable into English, and is perhaps best explained in pictures. Imagine, on a blustery winter's day, sitting feet up in a favorite chair, wrapped in a wooly afghan, sipping some soothing winter drink and basking in the warmth of a crackling fireplace. Imagine coming home after a long time away, so glad to be back in a familiar place, rejoicing in each touchstone sight and sound and smell. Imagine getting home from work, kicking off your shoes, shedding your corporate uniform and putting on your most comfortable "home clothes." Imagine an enjoyable evening just snuggling on the sofa with a loved one, glad for the closeness and companionship. Imagine a lazy weekend morning making waffles with the kids. Imagine Tolkien's hobbits contentedly puttering around in their tidy and well-provisioned hobbit-holes. Imagine a place where, like the song says, everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came.
For something to be gemuetlich is for it to feel like home -- not so much in the physical sense but in the psychic sense; a place of comfort and nurturing, shelter and rest, and freedom to be onself; that place you always want to get back to, even if it's just an ideal in your mind.
And it usually is. "Home" is surprisingly elusive. It comes to us in moments. It doesn't linger. It is a refuge precisely because it is so unlike the world around us -- a world that is not nurturing, not sheltering or restful, a world run by a variety of impersonal systems, interlocking gears that regularly grind us down or choke the life out of us.
In today's Gospel lesson we hear a lot about "abiding." It's a quaint word, these days, one that we probably primarily associate with the hymn "Abide With Me." It's another one of those portmanteau words. We may think of it in terms of "stay" or "remain," but it really has a more profound connotation: to make a home with.
Tom Paxton has a great song called "Home Is Anywhere You Are." What Jesus tells us in this week's Gospel lesson is that, for us, home is anywhere he is; and that, for him, home is anywhere we are. When I think about this, I think about Jesus' stays at the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus of Bethany; the easy familiarity of his hanging out in their kitchen, maybe helping peel a few vegetables or knead some dough. That's what he's promising us today.
The last time I heard one of John's "abiding" texts, I was sitting in the ER of a big-city hospital with my mother after her heart attack. There were no beds available in the hospital proper, so we were camped out in an ER room -- surrounded by tubes and monitors and other beeping equipment, and the managed chaos outside the fabric curtain that led to the hallway. She had ordered supper, and was picking at a chicken salad sandwich while I tried to make light conversation, all the while thinking, Oh. My. God.
Suddenly our pastor, whom I'd called after we'd arrived, came through the curtain, breathless. We talked for awhile, and then he said, "Let's have Communion." He didn't have his own prayer book handy but I had stuck my little Book of Common Prayer into my bag en route, so he used that instead. (A hat tip to all my Anglican friends.) As he paged through it looking for some Scripture, he came upon one of the "abiding" texts of John's Gospel, and after he read it aloud he riffed on it, in an impromptu homily, talking to us about the word "abide"; how, even in this strange and intimidating place, and no matter what was happening to us or around us, Christ was abiding in us, and we in him, so that even here, even now, we were all home and Christ was home.
So we can be home with Christ no matter what our circumstances. I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in prison, about to be executed, cheerfully going about his pastoral duties on behalf of other prisoners and even his guards. He knew he was home and that Christ was home in him.
Some of us know we are home, and that Christ is home in us, even when our ostensible spiritual homes want to keep us in the equivalent of their mudrooms until they can figure out what to do with us, or who tell us in so many words that when we "clean up" to their satisfaction we can finally proceed to the living room where the real house party is going on. We know because, as Christ explains in our text, those who abide in him, who make their homes in him, and he in them, produce spiritual "fruit"; become part of God's family enterprise, manifesting God's love and truth in ways that others can see and hear and experience. If that fruit is there, then Christ is there. If you know what it's like to communicate thoughts about faith you thought you were incapable of expressing to others, or to be brave in ways that you didn't think you could manage, or give of yourself in a self-sacrificing, kenotic way that you might have once thought impossible or mad -- you know what it is to have Christ the gardener in your soul, tending you and helping you bear the fruit that speaks to his presence in your life, whether or not the mudroom monitors of the institutional church acknowledge it.
The song is right; and Dorothy is right; there is no place like home. Not only that -- there's no place like home. Our home is in our relationship with Christ. And that's a good place to be. He seems to think so.
"Suzanne With Milk and a Book," Carl Larsson