Both Joshua 5 and Luke 15 deal with wandering. The nation wanders in the wilderness due to disobedience. The youngest son wanders in a different kind of wilderness, lost in disgrace. In both stories, the wanderers make their way home out of the wilderness, but neither the nation nor the youngest son finds relief from the disgrace that has resulted from disobedience and wandering. It is only the absolution by the "other" (God in Joshua 5; the father in Luke 15) that redeems their past. "Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt." "This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!" Each absolution is followed by a feast. In both cases, the feast symbolizes that the shame of wandering has been replaced with the promise of a new life.
This is the story of God's love affair with us, isn't it? God gives us the world / we'd rather have another one / that turns out to be a pathetic substitute / we find ourselves lost, alone, ashamed / we try to find our way back into God's embrace / God finds us groping around in the darkness, welcomes us home, and throws a banquet.
Notice that the story of our redemption is not simply that we are saved, forgiven, absolved from something. We are saved, forgiven, absolved for something. Our liturgy conveys that message in many ways, but none so well as in the words of Absolution, "Almighty God have mercy on you, forgive you all your sins through the grace of Jesus Christ, strengthen you in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep you in eternal life."
After we receive the assurance of God's pardon, we are promised that God will also strengthen us in goodness and keep us in eternal life. Our life has a purpose and that purpose is clarified for us when we are in communion with God. That's because, as the collect for last Sunday puts it, "we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves."
To be "kept in eternal life" is to live in the kingdom of God, the realm where God is in charge and where a life giving feast is always waiting.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
The word "prodigal" means "spendthrift." In both stories of wandering from Joshua and from Luke, it is God who is the true prodigal.
I"ll see you in Church!
The Very Reverend Ronald D. Pogue
St. Andrew’s Cathedral