A HEAVENLY HOMECOMING
There are few words more emotive and evocative than the word home - and there are few moments in life more joyful or poignant than coming home.
My novel, 'The Prodigal Father', is all about homecoming. In it, a father called Jake goes off the rails and leaves his family for Casino City in the far north.
He loses himself in a world of gambling and danger until he experiences an extreme downturn in his fortunes. He is forced to live rough on the streets and forage for food.
There Jake wistfully talks of his home to a fellow street dweller called Christine - a modern Christ-figure who teaches him how to survive in a harsh and unforgiving urban landscape.
She and her imaginary friend 'Gusto' share their home - a rusty old Ford Capri - with Jake.
With their unconventional help and wisdom, Jake begins to turn his thoughts from exile to return.
How it all pans out - well, you'll have to go home and read it!
* * *
Homecoming - the act of returning to where you feel most welcome and loved - is undeniably powerful, whether in literature or life.
As Charles Dickens once wrote,
'Every traveler has a home of his own and he learns to appreciate it more from his wanderings.'
This is true.
And it is also true that the older we get the more we appreciate it.
When we are young we grow up wanting to leave home. When we grow old we start wanting more and more to return home.
When we are children, we look up at the sky and long to be sitting in an airplane flying far away.
When we are older, we look down from the airplane and long to be with our loved ones again.
The young want to leave it.
The old want to retrieve it.
There's truly something about home.
* * *
Why all this talk of homecoming?
The other day I was asked by a friend who works for the BBC to provide resources on the Ascension of Christ - in preparation for a program for Ascension Day (Thursday 9th May).
After some study, I came to the conclusion that for me the most moving aspect of the Ascension of Christ has to do with his homecoming to the Father.
The actual physical act of the Ascension doesn't interest me that much.
I am not so preoccupied with whether Jesus went up to a realm beyond the reach of any telescope.
Or whether he slipped through some invisible portal into a parallel universe.
These things seem rather prosaic to me.
At least in comparison with the idea of homecoming.
That is what intrigues and moves me most - the idea of the Stranger from Heaven returning home.
The Son coming home to the arms of his outrageously loving Father.
That's the stuff of poetry.
* * *
There are three things I have thought about over the last fortnight in relation to this.
The first has to do with REST.
That great philosopher Pumba in 'The Lion King' said that 'home is where you rest your rump.'
Home is where you can sit down, put your feet up, and sigh with uninhibited relief.
There would have been something of this for Jesus at the Ascension.
The Bible says that once he had ascended into the heavens he sat down next to his heavenly Father.
And he sat down because he had fulfilled his assignment.
He had won the race, fought the fight, gained the prize.
Now it was time to rest.
It was time to sit and sigh with relief and delight.
There was something about REST in this heavenly homecoming.
* * *
And there was secondly something about RELATIONSHIP.
Coming home doesn't always mean returning to a place.
Often it can mean returning to a person or people - to those who know you best and love you most.
As the actor Daniel Radcliffe has said, 'I love coming home to somebody.'
Not somewhere, note, but somebody.
As Radcliffe added, 'I love being in a relationship.'
Jesus' homecoming was all about relationship.
When he returned to his home in heaven, he returned to the immediacy of intimacy.
While he was on the earth, he related to his Father in his human body through the Holy Spirit.
When he returned to the Father he went from a long distance to a face to face relationship.
Homecoming was about RELATIONSHIP for Jesus.
* * *
And thirdly it was about REJOICING.
Guy Pearce has said that 'the thrill of coming home has never changed.'
Thrill - good word that.
It can be truly thrilling when a loved one comes back home - both for the one welcoming and the one returning.
This was emphatically true of the Ascension.
And here we have to dream a little.
Can we begin to imagine what this return of Christ was really like - after his thirty years on the earth, three years in Galilee, and three days in the tomb?
Did the whole company of heaven stand for the returning Son?
Was there an ovation beyond any the world has ever known?
How loud did the angels sing and what was their exuberant song?
And what about the Father?
What did he do?
Did he run to his Son like the father of the prodigal - his arms outstretched, his face beaming, his eyes streaming with tears?
And did the whole universe shudder in an inexplicable ecstasy as the two embraced in the wild, encircling arms of the Spirit?
Maybe one day we will know.
Maybe one day we will see.
But for now we glimpse and guess, like children peering through the misty glass of a car returning home, plaintively inquiring, 'Are we there yet?'
And my guess is this - Christ's homecoming was a moment of unbridled joy in which the Father spun on his feet and danced with a ludicrous abandonment that startled heaven.
The Ascension released a Hallelujah chorus that would have sent shivers up Handel's spine.
* * *
May I make a suggestion?
If you have problems getting excited about the Ascension, think about it in terms of homecoming.
Imagine the moment when the Son came face to face with the Love of All Loves and heard the words, 'welcome home.'
And consider this.
The Son of God came to live in our place so that the sons of men could one day live in his.
We will all go home one day - even if we do not have a home to go to here.
There is a welcome waiting for us the like of which the world has never seen.
Because in his resurrection Christ opened the grave.
But in his ascension, he opened the doors of heaven.
Now every son and every daughter can one day dream of coming home.
And that's something worth celebrating.
'The Prodigal Father' is available as an ebook on www.amazon.co.uk, www.amazon.com, www.lulu.com and at www.theprodigalfather.co.uk