This week marks the fourth Sunday in Lent in which we will look together at another facet of salvation: “Salvation is Returning Home.” In the Hebrew scriptures, the Exodus story of being set free from slavery in Egypt is repeated over and over again: “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of slavery in the land of Egypt.” In our reading this Sunday from Jeremiah, however, the prophet turns from the remembrance of the Exodus to the promise of returning home from Babylon, where they have been in exile from their home. Jeremiah says, “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when no one will say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the Israelites from the land of Egypt.’ Instead, they will say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the descendants of the people of Israel from the land of the north and from all the lands where hehas banished them so that they can live in their own land.’” Jeremiah 23:7-8. Notice that the salvation theme has changed from looking back at Exodus and looking forward to returning home from exile.
Turning to the New Testament, Jesus tells The Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32 — a parable about exile and return. In this instance, the younger of two sons has exiled himself and feels unworthy to be welcomed back home as anything but the lowest of hired servants. But, when he returns, hoping he might be able to be treated like a hired hand, he finds a loving father who runs to meet him and even throws a big, completely undeserved celebration to welcome him home.
Looking at salvation as “returning home” helps us see salvation as reconciliation with God and with others. The idea of “returning home” means having a place we can return to. For the Jews this was, of course, Jerusalem and the Holy Land. For them, Jerusalem was more than just a place; they believed that God dwelled there, so for them returning to Jerusalem meant returning to closeness with God. The story of the Prodigal Son perhaps should really be called The Parable of the Loving Father, because it is the love and grace of the Father that takes center stage. Jesus makes it clear in this parable that God always receives us with open, loving arms — even when we have exiled ourselves to “a far country.”
I look forward to worshipping with you this Sunday as we continue to explore our Lenten theme of “Saving Grace” together and consider the ways in which Salvation is Returning Home.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster,