By Bill Shepard
Recently, I was given the honor and privilege of being a guest speaker at a homecoming event at a church where I once pastored. It had been more than fifty years since I had spoken at a homecoming at that church. Only a handful of children, now adults, remained of the congregation that was present at that first homecoming, decades past. Memories flowed like water as folk gathered, family and loved ones, all eager to share and relive memories of that special event a long time ago.
Here are some of my remarks made at that special homecoming gathering:
Say it with me, Homecoming! Now say it backwards, Coming Home! What a beautiful word! There is no other word in our language that can stir as many memories as the word home. Speak the word home in any group and minds travel in every direction. The word stirs memories of moms, dads, brothers, sisters, and friends. It takes us back to places, events, and memories, long frozen in time.
What is it about the word home that tugs at the heart and draws from it a warming response? Songwriters, poets, and storytellers have capitalized on the use of the word perhaps more than any other. Bobby Bare, the country singer in times past, sold a version of his song, “I Wanna Go Home.” It stayed at the top of the charts for a long time, and catapulted the singer into stardom.
No doubt some will remember, as I do, reading the story, “Lassie, Come Home,” about a dog’s adventures in her desperate attempt to return to the home from which she had been removed. Did you shed tears? I did!
I believe that there is a “homing instinct” inside of all of God’s creation. Something inside that says, “I want to go home!” It can be seen in the fowl of the air, the fish of the sea, and animals of the forest. We have read of certain animals that go back to their place of birth to die and of fish that return to their spawning waters to lay their eggs for future generations to spring forth. I have a family of wrens that have returned to my back porch, built their nest, laid their eggs, and hatched their young. They have done this every year over the past 20 years.
I have heard the saying that a young man leaves the farm to try his adventures in the city. He works for years and saves his money, so that he can buy the farm he left behind. We are told that thousands of young boys and girls leave their homes each year to experience life on the other side of the mountain. After trying their wings in strange and unfamiliar places, their memories of the home they left behind call them back. Some make the return trip safely, but some never do!
One of the most familiar stories in the Bible is of the Prodigal Son. Jesus tells the story and it is recorded in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 15. You have probably read it many times and so have I. It is a story about a young man who decided to leave home and try his wings in an unfamiliar setting. It is doubtful that anyone could have changed his mind. We are not given all the details of his journey; much is left for our own minds to ponder. I have done that many times. This we do know – he ended up in the pigpen. Broke, friendless, and hungry, he found a job that was feeding the swine. So much could be said about this scene but time will not permit. So hungry that he was tempted to eat off the hog’s food and then something happening. A Memory of Home appeared! Never, never underestimate the strength of a memory!
This story has a beautiful ending. The memory off home called him back. He said, “I will arise and return to my father’s house.” What a homecoming that must have been! As great as it was, and the one we are now enjoying, let them be reminders of the one that is yet to come. When Jesus Christ returns to gather His children home. Are you prepared for it? It could happen at any moment. The songwriter describes that moment in this way, “There will be singing, there will be shouting, there’ll be weeping, there’ll be praying, when our Lord returns again.” The question is left for each to answer.
Mr. Shepard is a native of Darlington, S.C., and a current resident of Piedmont, S.C. He is the author of “Mill Town Boy” and “Bruised”. He has been sharing his tales of growing up in Darlington for decades, and we are delighted to share them each week.
His mailing address for cards and letters is: Bill Shepard 324 Sunny Lane, Piedmont, S.C., 29673.