We were lost. We didn’t know where we were going or which way to turn. We had been driving around in circles for hours with nothing to show for it. And now we weren’t sure how to find our way home - and losing hope by the minute.
My family and I were living in Germany at the time while my father finished up course work at a church music school in Westphalia. While we were there, my dad was determined to investigate our German heritage and to find some of the old ancestral farms. So one day, we set out in our little green Ford Taunus in search of German relatives. Dad supposedly had some directions on how to get to this certain family farm, but it seemed to be of little help. So we were lost - like strangers in a strange land.
I have to tell you that not only were we physically lost at that point - I was personally feeling pretty lost as well. Here I was nine years old, in a strange country, with a foreign language, a new school, and no friends.
That’s how many people in East Germany felt after World War II when the Inner German border wall was constructed in 1949, and later the Berlin Wall in 1961. They found themselves far from relatives, far from freedom, far from prosperity, and far from home. I remember the stark contrast between East and West Germany on a family trip to Berlin. It was especially noticeable driving through Checkpoint Charlie – away from modern and colorful West Berlin – into drab, dreary, and gray East Berlin. The armed soldiers placed strategically on towers throughout the city made quite the impression as well. It was a place straight out of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce – somewhere between purgatory and the edge of heaven. The sign above the gate from Dante’s Inferno says it best: “Abandon hope all who enter here.”
They found themselves far from relatives, far from freedom, far from prosperity, and far from home.
As I think back on the experience, Jesus’ words from the Gospel of John 14 come to mind, words of comfort and hope for fearful followers during troubled times:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. I go there to prepare a place for you, and since I’m going to prepare a place for you, I will come back for you and take you to be with me, that where I am there you may also be. You know the way to the place I am going.” Thomas says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:1-6).
There are other statements in John’s gospel that are mile markers or signposts, but this is a giant billboard on the highway of life for the disciples and for us. Jesus doesn’t just point us in the right direction or lead us on the right path. He is the Way, the one and only way home to the Father. He has bridged the great chasm of fear and death that once separated us from God and one another. He has gone the way of the cross and empty tomb to make straight the path to God the Father and prepare for us a home in heaven.
As we were driving around Westphalia just about to give up any hope of finding a family farm, a man on a tractor in the field next to us approached. As my dad slowed down the car, he rolled down the window, and in his best German yelled out, “Hallo! Do you know any Dierkers around here?” (Dierker was my grandmother’s maiden name.) The farmer paused, looked a bit puzzled, and then answered, “Ich heisse Dierker”, which means, “I am a Dierker!”
He has gone the way of the cross and empty tomb to make straight the path to God the Father and prepare for us a home in heaven.
We all looked at each other for a moment and then just started laughing at the absurdity of it all. We were related to this guy on a tractor who just happened to bump into us in the middle of nowhere. Now we were no longer lost, but going the right direction and on the way home.
Some years later, my brother Jonathan was able to return to Germany as an exchange student in college. While he was there in 1989, a monumental event occurred: the Berlin Wall came down. It was a historic event for everyone because it meant the reunification of a once divided Germany. The celebration that ensued was unprecedented, and my brother and his friend wanted to make sure to get in on the experience. As they were driving toward the border of East and West Germany, cars began to stop, and spontaneous celebrations erupted right there on the highway. There was music, singing, dancing, fireworks; you name it. As my brother spoke with people amid the celebration, he realized the reason for their joy was not just due to the reunification of Germany, but because they could now see their families again. They would soon be on their way home.
Jesus has lifted the barrier of sin and death that once separated us from our true home. He takes away all of our fears and worries and replaces them with peace, hope, and joy. He now makes his home in our hearts as we look forward to that day when he will come back for us, to bring us home to the place he has prepared for us. Do not let your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in Jesus - for he is our way home.