Not long ago, a friend at our church lost her husband of fifty-plus years unexpectedly during the pandemic. She was not allowed to be by his bedside as he passed away in the hospital, and she could not hold a proper funeral for him. She returned alone to the empty house that she had recently bought with him, boxes still packed up from the move. The warmth and promise of a cozy retirement home had frosted over with the chill of a tomb.
Home is more than a physical building—it is a place of permanent belonging, often shared with those we love. Jesus, knowing that his death is near, promises his disciples that he is going ahead to prepare a place for them in his Father’s house (John 14:2–4). Why, I have often wondered, does he promise this in particular?
Perhaps one answer is that his promise draws out an important theme for his disciples, who were part of a people whose narrative identity was marked by periods of exile and sojourning. The disciples may not have been desert wanderers like their forefathers, but they had left everything to follow the One who had no place to lay his head. The promise of an eternal home must have resonated deeply with them.
Today, as Jesus’ disciples, his promise resonates with us too. In the season of Lent and all through the year, in a myriad of ways we also yearn for the miraculous movement from wilderness to safety, exile to belonging, sojourning to home.
One way this longing has been expressed by the church is through the liturgical calendar. Over the centuries, the church has appropriately linked Lent with the desert, the epitome of exile. For example, the collect for the first Sunday of Lent in The Book of Common Prayer focuses on Christ’s desert temptations, and the daily office readings for the season are saturated with passages from Exodus, Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and the latter half of Genesis, pointing to the Israelites’ long history of sojourning and later uprooting. In this season, churches all over the world are meditating on what it means to point our feet homeward.
In my own life, the longing for home was imprinted on me from birth. My mother immigrated to the US from South Korea with my father in the 1980s, carrying only what could fit inside her suitcase. She left everything behind—her parents, personal aspirations, the ability to communicate, all that is familiar—and spent most of her days alone in a small apartment, losing hope and clumps of hair to debilitating depression. I was born not long after. Each year on my birthday when I have miyeok-guk (seaweed soup) in honor of my mother, as the Korean people have done for centuries, I think of how the taste evokes tears.
Sara Kyoungah White