Exile is a powerful word. It conjures up images of isolation, wandering, rejection, even death.
Exile means being plucked out of your homeland and displaced into the unknown. You’re cut off from God – isolated – outside. Without a Temple or national sovereignty, the Babylonians were able to commit near complete cultural genocide. The only way the people survived was to write down their stories and cling to them. The entire Old Testament is a collection of these survival stories, which were all written in exile.
Check it out:
Adam and Eve are kicked out of their promised land to the East (Babylon is east of Israel).
Cain is kicked out of his family to wander in the East (Gen 4:13-16)
The tower of Babel…..it’s a giant city that has gathered all people together and forced them to speak the same language…. It’s the tower of Babylon.
When we’re introduced to Abram in Genesis 11:27, we’re told his homeland was Babylon (Ur of the Chaldeans). Gen 12:1 says, “Now the LORD said to Abram: Go from [Babylon] to the land I will show you. I will make you a great community – I will bless you – I’ll make your name great.”
These stories meant something to people trapped, estranged, clinging to meaning in the Babylonian exile. These are all exile stories! They were all written during the exile!
You know LUCIFER??? (I don’t mean the tv show.) Culturally, we understand Lucifer as a name for Satan or the Devil. But biblically, that may not be so. The name of Lucifer only occurs once in the Bible, in Isaiah 14:12.
If you read Isaiah 14:3-12, you’ll notice that Lucifer is actually the name given to the King of Babylon. The book of Isaiah was put down in writing during the Babylonian exile. The biblical portrayal of pure evil (Satan, the Devil, Lucifer) is the one or the thing that would estrange us from one another and from the Divine.
You know that part of you deep down that you try to ignore? The part that’s lonely – discouraged – ashamed – insecure? The part that constantly feels like an outsider? Look around – you’re not alone in exile. The vulnerability in me acknowledges the vulnerability in you.
It’s not our strengths that weave us together, it’s our weaknesses. It’s not our victory stories, it’s our struggle stories.
There is exile in all of us and exile all around of us. Consider the folks in Bowness suffering, consider the people in Canada and around the globe. The whole earth wonders what the Psalmist wonders in Psalm 22:1 : “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
In John’s gospel, we’re told that God’s heart was so heavy with love for this world that he became flesh and dwelt in our midst. Paul says he became nothing, humbling himself by becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Christ became a criminal crucified on a Roman cross – Christ became an exile, forsaken on a Babylonian cross.
In Matthew 25, we find a commonly quoted passage of scripture. Jesus talks about the great day of Judgement, when he’ll separate the sheep from the goats. To those on his right he’ll say, “When I was naked you clothed me, when I was hungry you fed me, when I was sick and in prison you visited me, when I was a stranger you welcomed me.” When I was in exile, you walked with me. People will be confused, like, “What are you talking about? I spent my whole life wondering where you were … When were you hungry, or sick, or in prison?” and Christ will respond, “whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me….. that wounded exile in your neighbour? That’s me.”
It’s not our strengths that unite us – it’s our vulnerability.
Don’t come to church for the sermons. Don’t come for the worship. Don’t come for the community. Come to listen to the ancient stories of exile, and gather around the table to partake in the broken body of Christ in exile. Come to be seen and to see that you’re not alone, beloved. We’re not alone.
Finish this sentence: “If you really reallllllly knew me, you’d know that ________”. Be seen and be brought into community again.