Just yesterday I received an email from my sister marking a significant moment in my life: “Portland is now officially on the market.” Now that our 95 year old mother is well settled in her care home on the esplanade at Waterloo, just five doors down from the Ismay family home (they gave us the Titanic) we have decided to sell our family home. My father died in 1993 just after we had moved to Aughton.
My sister is kind and caring person and so obviously more sensitive to the situation than I am. But even so, by any reckoning the end of an era which began when we moved from West Derby on 29 December, 1955, the year Father Christmas delivered my much-loved Tri-ang train set.
It had two points.
And Portland Avenue has been home ever since, even when I didn’t live there. In fact, since I have been ordained we have been visiting my parents each Sunday afternoon, including during the nine years we were in Rochdale. It gave our children a sense of continuity.
The place is filled with memories. My sister writes: “Without the stair lift the house is more as I remembered as a child, with you swinging on the stairs from the upstairs landing.” Upto yesterday I had always assumed that nobody ever saw me practicing this death-defying manoeuvre. Strangely, I tried it again last Monday when Jacqui wasn’t looking – but sadly I am now far too tall.
This morning I’ve been reading John 21, when the disciples, following the resurrection of Jesus, return to Galilee where they pick up where they left off and start fishing. Whatever, it was worth the 70 miles there – and 70 miles back to Jerusalem.
The BRF commentator writes: “A group of disciples, led by Peter, have returned to their roots – to the very place, and engaging in the very activity, where our Lord first called them. What drove them there? Were they trying to make sense of it all by going back to where the story began, or were they simply escaping to something familiar?”
Clearly Galilee was of huge significance to the disciples. It was home, it was where they belonged. And there they meet with Jesus who recommissions them. But Galilee never reappears in the New Testament account, apart from a short reference in Acts 9:31. The disciples move on, pushed by a combination of the Holy Spirit and of persecution. They simply leave Galilee behind.
For the truth is that you can never move back. It my be the same geographical location but it is not the same place, just a location for memories. Billy Graham (part of my own past) observes “It’s easy to feel nostalgic about simpler times, but they obviously were not easier times. Nor were they necessarily happier times.” The word ‘nostalgia’ comes from two Greek words meaning ‘return home’ and pain.
It’s what I am feeling now.
But to be a Christian means to be rooted in Jesus (and nowhere else).
This gives us a security, a sense of belonging, so that God can send us anywhere. Just like those first disciples who breakfasted with Jesus on the familiar shore of Galilee. Tradition has it that Peter finished up in Rome, John in Ephesus and incredibly Thomas in Thiruvithancode (I pasted that from Wikipedia).
The apostle Paul knew where his bearing were: that was why he was so mobile. “We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:7.
The truth is that when our home is with the Lord, we can be anywhere.
And God keeps moving us on, in all kinds of ways, not necessarily geographically. Exciting but a little unnerving.