Family reunions bring back memories of home

Published 7:30 am Sunday, June 25, 2023

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Summertime is the season for family reunions and church homecomings. It’s the time when people from faraway places come home.

My father-in-law’s family gathers for time of food and fellowship, usually on the last Saturday in June. My mother-in-law’s family comes together the first Saturday in August.

Through laughter and tears, we share memories and make memories. One by one, as kinfolk arrive, hugs were exchanged, usually with a pat on the back. Nevermind your diet at a family reunion. Tables loaded with desserts made from family recipes handed down to the next generation or a church homecoming known as “dinner on the ground.” Calories don’t count!

Our family loves spending time together. Often, there are new branches to the family tree carried in the arms of proud, loving parents and doting grandparents. Little children grow several more inches and teens talk about their plans after graduation. Someone’s usually announcing a wedding date. But, inevitably, the time comes to say our goodbyes until next year’s reunion.

I once 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 over 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, and 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 Washington, D.C.

John Howard Payne wrote a poem in 1822 that became a song 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, 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.”

One day we will gather for the grandest family reunion of all when the Lord and our loved ones are welcomed 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.

“Think of stepping on shore and finding it heaven, or taking hold of a hand and finding it God’s, or breathing new air and finding it celestial, or feeling invigorated and finding it immortality; of passing through a tempest to a new and unknown ground; of waking up well and happy and find it home.”

— Jan White has compiled a collection of her columns in her book, “Everyday Faith for Daily Life.”