Family reunions bring back memories of home

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 2, 2011

Summertime is the season for family reunions and church homecomings.  It’s the time when people from faraway places come home.  Last week, our family experienced two reunions.

My father-in-law’s family gathered for time of food and fellowship.  Through laughter and tears, we shared memories and made memories.  One by one as kinfolk arrived, hugs were exchanged, usually with a pat on the back.

Our family spent Friday afternoon and Saturday morning together before we went our separate ways after lunch.  One by one kinfolk said their goodbyes with more hugs.  A good time was had by all.

I recently read a story about someone whose words describe what makes coming home a special time.  The president of the United States, members of his cabinet, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Marine Band, along with a crowd of more than 2,000 attended a memorial service in February 1883.

Who would be deserving of such recognition?  You might think the Memorial Service was held to honor a military hero or well-known statesman.  To make the story even more interesting, this person had died 31 years earlier and was buried in North Africa.

His name was John Howard Payne, an American actor, poet, playwright appointed by President John Tyler as the American Consul in Tunis.  Payne’s ashes were brought back for burial in the U.S.  The Memorial Service was held in Washin-gton, D.C.

John Howard Payne wrote the words to a song in 1822 that touched the hearts of all Americans.  It was reportedly a favorite song of troops from both the North and the South during the Civil War.

The first line of his poem, later set to music by Henry Bishop, is still quoted today, “Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam, be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.”

Our family marked a second reunion after the first one ended when we attended the funeral of our Uncle Joe Williams.  At age 81 after 15 months in a nursing home, he passed away having suffered from the long goodbye called Alzheimer’s.

As we gathered to celebrate Joe’s life and share memories of him, I thought about the family reunion he was experiencing when the Lord and our loved ones welcomed Joe into the joys of heaven.  I wondered if loved ones who have passed on were standing on the front porches of their mansions, looking down the golden streets watching for family to arrive.

That reunion will last for eternity.

There’ll be no more goodbyes.  Jesus will wipe away every tear from our eyes. “There will be no more death or sadness. There will be no more crying or pain” (Revelation 21:4).  There’s a poem by an unknown author I once heard that describes the grandest reunion of all.

“Imagine stepping onto a shore and finding it’s Heaven.  Imagine taking hold of a hand and finding it’s God’s hand.  Imagine breathing new air and finding it’s celestial.  Imagine feeling invigorated and finding its immortality.  Imagine passing from storms and tempest to an unknown calm.  Imagine waking up and finding it’s home.”