I’ve been travelling recently. I wasn’t away long enough to get homesick, but I was gone long enough and far enough away to miss home. When people ask me how my trip was, I usually say something like, “It was nice, but it’s good to be home.” Partly, that’s a polite way of saying that I value my relationships here more than my time away, but it’s also true. It is good to be home.
Ezekiel is a book of the bible I do not know a lot about. I spent a year in seminary studying “exilic theology,” and I remember writing an essay that was based in Ezekiel, but it’s such a long and vivid book that I don’t feel like I have a full grasp of it. Still, though, today’s reading awakens in me a sentiment that helps me appreciate a bit of the prophet’s perspective even if I can’t fully understand it.
God tells the prophet to go to his people in exile and say to them, “I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.” One of the great overarching themes of scripture is the return of the lost, so these words don’t really surprise me, but the way in which they are set in this particular passage really touches a sensitive and receptive place in my heart. The promise is not abstract. It isn’t a far-away dream. It is a clear and potent promise of salvation.
Maybe that’s because God invites the prophet (and the reader) to consider how he has sustained his people during their exile: “Though I removed them far away among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a little while in the countries where they have gone.” Yes, they went astray. Yes, God scattered them across the known world. Yes, their time in exile was brutal. But God did not completely abandon his people. He was their protector even in the midst of their trouble. And why? So that he could one day bring them back home.
Something changes when you have a return ticket. Something happens to your spirit and psyche when you know that you’re coming home. Back when I lived overseas, the sense of separation and the anxiety that it brought always diminished when I bought my plane ticket to come home. Even if that trip was still three months away, just knowing a date on the calendar when I would be coming back home lifted my spirits and gave me hope.
God always brings his people back home. His promise is to shelter them until they make the return voyage. If you’re stuck in a place that seems isolated and far off, look for signs that one day God will bring you back. The hope for Ezekiel’s people wasn’t real until God reached out to them and showed them how their return was always a part of his plan. Even if you haven’t figured out how you’ll make it back, see if you can hear in God’s promises to his people an invitation to hope that one day that promise will be for you.