As of the time I write this, yesterday afternoon after church services there was a short meeting of people helping out for a senior’s brunch in a neighboring congregation of my larger church denomination to the one I usually attend. The brunch happens to be scheduled three weeks from now, and it is my task to be the coordinator for rides and the designated resource for answering questions among those from my congregation who will be making the trek down to Salem. One of the more striking aspects of the upcoming brunch is that the theme is a family reunion, and the conception of that involves a BBQ of meat as well as some kettle chips. Indeed, there was a conscious desire to mimic the 1950’s on a part of the people organizing this year’s event, as was candidly admitted when we spoke yesterday about what was going on. Not being a person who has a great deal of nostalgic tendencies, nor someone who tends to find nostalgia as productive when it comes to history as well, given the way that visions of imagined nostalgia tend to make life more difficult in the present, but when one is greatly dissatisfied with the present and has little to look forward to in the future, it is easy to understand why the past might be a source of comfort, even if it is not a source of comfort for me personally.
In the movie adaptation of the memoir Twelve Years A Slave , one of the most poignant scenes takes place at the end of the movie, where the freeman Solomon Northrup is reunited with his wife and kids after having been freed from bondage. There is a lot of weeping and an effort made to apologize for the years that have been lost in absence, and likely to the compromises and moral difficulties that resulted from being enslaved as well. In this case, rather than looking at the past, the family reunion was meant to establish a new beginning, since it was impossible to recover the past fully. Nevertheless, although the years of the locust could not be entirely restored, since time that is lost for beings of a limited lifespan is lost forever, and the only way that lost time can cease to be a loss is if eternal life is provided for, the ability of the Northrup family to be restored to each other’s company meant that the sense of loss was balanced as well by at least some measure of justice, and also served the greater good of society by showing the cruel rapacity of slave dealers and kidnappers, whose evil deeds are worthy of death, and likely had at least some importance in raising sectional tensions that eventually led to the destruction of slavery in the United States.
Yesterday at church services we had a video feed, which takes place yearly, and one of the speakers was the retired pastor of our local congregation. In his message he spoke of the difficulties faced during the Vietnam War, while the draft was still ongoing, by those who were too soft-spoken and mild-mannered to fully express their unwillingness to go overseas and fight, which led to some people ending up in prison for their quiet convictions. One of my acquaintances some years ago had expressed his own difficulties after coming to faith during his term of service with the Navy, which had threatened him with time in the brig, before his difficulties had been resolved in an elegant way. In both cases, there was a family reunion of sorts at the end, as one person was able to return to physical and spiritual family after ending imprisonment, and in the other case there was an ability to avoid prison and hold on until such time as the term of contracted service was over, at which point one could return home and reunite with family at long last. In both cases, the difficulties faced as a result of the threat of sanction on the part of the government was merely a temporary obstacle to the long-term goals of the people involved. In such cases, whether God delivered someone out of a trial or through a trial, there was no difference in terms of the ultimate effect. One could easily imagine both cases leading to a situation where someone desired to be reunited with their family.
At times, a reunion with physical family is undesirable or impossible. At times it might be dearly wished for, but unlikely to happen. In other institutions the same sort of concern about family reunion might run into similar difficulties, as our institutions cannot help but mirror the state of the people in them. We can create no better a world than is inside ourselves. Our own character is the strictest limiting factor or any endeavor we happen to be a part of. Today, for example, I happened to read a story about a late Italian singer who was best known for being fired on the air of the CBS show he worked for simply because he had gotten an agent and a manager to represent him in the face of growing envy on the part of his insecure boss. In discussing the fallout of that decision, someone had made the metaphor of the performer as having as a symbolic father the host of the show and the fans as a mother, with the child being thrown out of the house because of jealousy not like that of King Saul when he became incensed with the women of Israel praising Saul for having slain thousands of enemies while David was hyperbolically claimed to have slain ten thousands. What had been intended as a celebration of God’s progressive increasing blessings instead prompted the insecure Saul to treat David like a threat that must be eliminated to secure his own domination over Israel. The end result was a great deal of stress and wasted effort and the distraction of Saul from the real threat of the Philistines that ended up leading to his death on the slopes of Mount Gilboa, and to a temporary division of the House of Israel between his son Ishbaal in the north and David in the south, a division that was a portend of future disaster.
The longing for family reunions in some fashion is a very common one. For example, events are sometimes planned that encourage people to spend time together. Companies have picnics where they pretend to be a loving and unified family. Church host community parties, and have dinner clubs all in the goal of encouraging people to mix and mingle and get to know each other like family. This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it represents the origin of diplomacy as we know it in the world. The Tel Amarna letters record, for example, that the great rulers of the Late Bronze Age Levant from Egypt, the Hittite Empire, Assyria, Kassite Babylon, and Mycenae viewed each other as brothers. Their family relationships, some of them fairly literal with marriage alliances, were tediously repeated as a way of demonstrating that it meant something to all of the parties involved, as a way of showing that whatever international competition they faced, they were ultimately all members of the same family and had interests that were shared between all parties, and a commitment to diplomacy even in the face of occasional warfare. The Egyptians and Hittites fought for decades, as was the case between the Egyptians and the Mittani, and the Hittites and the Assyrians over the corpse of the Mittani Empire, but for most of the powers, there was at least the possibility of peace even after all of the difficulties they faced among each other.
In the mid 1980’s, the church I was born into had a change of leadership when its founder died. His successor made it a point to promote the church being one family, as opposed to an ethnocentric group of different families, but the lesson was a difficult one to get across, especially because the focus on love and unity and togetherness was combined with doctrinal infidelity, so much so that the two aspects of his leadership were unfortunately seen as being correlated, to the chagrin of many others. Also unfortunate was the fact that the call for greater love and ease of fellowship was a tactical move rather than entirely genuine, or at least it did not progress to the point of leading to a proper understanding of leaders as servants, or to the overcoming of class and racial distinctions among brethren, but those are ambitious aims, and a reminder that much work remains to be done, as was the case in the early Church of God, before we begin to resemble the way that God and Jesus Christ are in heaven. Of course, if we are candid with ourselves we all have much work to do before we are the way that we ought to be and that we were designed to be.
The longing for reunion can be found everywhere in this world. The little children whose parents are hopelessly at odds long for their missing parents, or at least someone to fill that spot in their lives. The brokenness of churches makes itself felt in empty pews and people often cut adrift from many people they hold most dear. Death robs us of friends and family and loved ones, and even at times the death of strangers exerts in us a pull to understand the nature of the days that we have to spend, and a firm resolution to live as well as possible. C.S. Lewis wrote that it is a universal human experience that the longings we have are possible of being fulfilled, and that the implication of this is that if there is a longing that we have, and it cannot be fulfilled in this world, than we were not created (only) for this world . The sorts of longings we have for love surviving death into eternity are longings that are not possible in this world or in this life, but their existence suggests that eternity is written in our hearts, and that it will be a reality for at least some people. The very strength of this longing leads many people to think that they already have immortal souls, and all that needs to be pondered or worked out is what sort of fate that soul will have. It is not my desire to comment here on matters with which I have little experience; I am of the firm belief that such a spirit as we have naturally does not include consciousness after the grave, as the Bible suggests that the grave is a sort of family reunion where we are gathered to our fathers or buried with our fathers or go to our relatives, as the language of the Old Testament makes plain over and over again.
Yet we long for a happier reunion than all of this. We do not long merely for some hamburgers or grilled chicken and kettle cut chips, nor do we long for merely a taste of togetherness once every year with fellow denizens of the cube farm. We want more than conferences that take place once a year, or the occasional visit with our spiritual brothers and sisters near and far. We want reconciliation with those with whom we have been estranged, and for the broken relationships of our lives to be restored whole again. Much of what we want will not be fulfilled entirely in this life. That is how it is, and it is not worth complaining about. It is enough to know that the family reunion we long for is yet ahead of us, and that there is something to look forward to coming to pass in the future, that we will not remain parched and hungry and longing forever. We will have our family reunion, and it will be a lasting one that will bring no end of pleasure in the joys of interaction without ceasing.
 See, for example: