“You are coming to homecoming, aren’t you?” It was one of those questions that are really a command, like, “You are going to take out the trash, aren’t you?”
Every year Pa would make sure to remind my sister and I that homecoming at Bethabara Church was coming up. It was understood that we were expected to be there on the fourth Sunday in October. We would be there. And not just because Daddy and Momma were expecting us to be there. I’ve looked forward to going back. I have probably missed only three or four homecomings at Bethabara since I’ve become an adult. And that’s been a lot of years.
Homecomings have always been a tradition, especially in rural churches. It’s a time, usually in the Fall, when the church family comes back home to the church of their youth. You would get to see old friends and relatives and renew acquaintances. It was a great way to get back in touch with your roots. And then there is the food.
The highlight of homecoming was always the homecoming dinner. (Don’t call it lunch.) A long row of tables would be set up outside. After the morning worship service, we call it preaching, everyone would head out to their cars to get their food. Soon, those tables would be filled with good ol’ homecooking. We would carry dishes and dishes of food that Momma had cooked. Many times, Daddy would get up early homecoming Sunday morning and go out to the barn and fry a bunch of chicken. I wondered when I was young why go through all the trouble to load up and carry all that food to the church. It seemed to me that it would be easier just to leave it and then go back home and eat it.
But soon the long row of tables would be filled with food. I kept a close watch to see where the chicken pastry, turnips and other favorite foods were placed on the tables. I also made sure to know where Aunt Lettie would put her cake. I would make sure to head to the dessert table fast inorder to get a big piece of whatever cake she made for homecoming. Because whatever it was, I knew it was going to be good.
The thing about going back to homecomings is that things change. Over the years my grandparents and my mother passed away. Last year was the first year going back since the passing of my father. Most of my friends that I grew up with in the church no longer live in the area and don’t make it back for homecoming. But there are new members and younger people now involved in the life of Bethabara Church. Things change, that’s life. But my roots are still back in that church. Roots that helped build a foundation for my life.
This Sunday at homecoming the folks there have asked me to teach the Sunday School lesson for the adults. As I started thinking about what to teach on, I thought about probably the best example of a homecoming in the Bible. It is the parable Jesus taught about the lost son, or the prodigal son, found in Luke 15. You probably know the story well.
The son demands his inheritance from his father, leaves for another country and blows it all. Ending up working in a pigpen, (not the best of places for a Jew to be) he comes to his senses. He thinks, “I’d be better off a servant in my father’s house than here in this pigpen.” He is sorry and realizes that he has sinned against God and his father. He heads home. What happens next is the homecoming story.
“While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt sorry for his son. So the father ran to him, hugged and kissed him.” Even as the son tried to ask forgiveness the father was ordering a celebration, because his son “was lost, but now he is found!
We can relate to the parable of the prodigal son. We know that the father represents God, and the lost son is, well, us. I suppose the question is, “If you haven’t, when are you going to come to your senses and get out of that smelly pigpen of your life and head back home?” When you do, there will be a homecoming celebration and a Father running to meet you. Now that’s a homecoming!