This past Sunday my church celebrated our forty-third annual Homecoming. I assume that when I say Homecoming many of you know exactly what I mean, but I also know that many of you lesser-privileged souls are thinking of a football game and a dance, wondering what in the world that has to do with church. Allow me to explain. Close your eyes. Smell your grandmother’s home cooking. Now imagine thirty grandmothers and a thirty-foot long table ultimately culminating in fifteen different types of dessert. You’re halfway to Homecoming already. Now add in a pinch of family reunion, a dash of Southern hospitality, a whole heaping helping of singing, and one more scoop of singing just for good measure. Oh, and of course (as the preacher) there is a sermon glistening like a cherry on top of all of that. Now you know what makes Homecoming so special. Or do you?

 Why I Love Homecoming

I love every one of those things about Homecoming, and if you saw a current picture of me you would know that I probably love the food part a little too much. I love seeing all those people who have passed through the fellowship of our church and moved further along the path God has made for them. Especially since I now pastor the church I was born into and raised in my entire life it is like seeing family that I have missed for far too long. And of course I love the singing. It is a beautiful thing when the people of God come together and allow their love and devotion for the Savior to spill out in beautiful melody.

But, out of all of these wonderful ingredients, the thing I love the most about Homecoming has to be the memories. As a matter of fact I think the memories, more than anything else, are what make this yearly celebration so important. For the other roughly fifty-one Sundays of the year we spend almost all our time as a church thinking about how God might want to use us in the present or where he might be guiding us in the future, but for this one special Sunday we stop and remember. We remember how God was faithful as this little body was just beginning. We remember how God was faithful when attendance was booming; we remember how God was faithful when attendance was all but gone. We remember how God was faithful when things went right, and we remember how God was faithful when things went wrong.

You may be noticing a theme. What makes the memories so important is not simply that we remember them, but what we remember about them. God has been faithful to us. This type of remembering is God-honoring and it is biblical. Take a look at Psalm 136:

 “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,

for his steadfast love endures forever…  

to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,

    for his steadfast love endures forever;

and brought Israel out from among them,

    for his steadfast love endures forever;

with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,

    for his steadfast love endures forever;

to him who divided the Red Sea in two,

    for his steadfast love endures forever; 

and made Israel pass through the midst of it,

    for his steadfast love endures forever;

but overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea,

    for his steadfast love endures forever;

to him who led his people through the wilderness,

    for his steadfast love endures forever…”

(Psalm 136:1,10-16 ESV)

 In this Psalm, Israel could look back at the many ways that God had provided for them in the past and be glad and worship. Beyond that it gave them encouragement for the present and hope for the future because the God who never changes, who had been faithful to them in the past, is faithful in the present and will remain faithful into eternity. It is who He is. That is why God repeatedly throughout the Old Testament ordained feasts and festivals marking important events of their national history; not for the sake of their national pride, but that, in the Passoverfor example, they would look back to God’s saving work over them in Egypt and say “Give thanks to LORD, for HE is good, for HIS steadfast love endures forever.” (emphasis added)

And this isn’t just the story of the Old Testament. This idea continues into the New Testament Church as well. Think about these words about the Lord’s Supper from 1 Corinthians:

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor. 11:23-26)

First and foremost the taking of the Lord’s Supper is an act of remembrance: “Do this in remembrance of me.” But that is not all it is. In that remembering we are given strength for the present and hope for the future: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death…” (our strength for the present) “until he comes” (our hope for the future). This in fact is the Gospel: an act of God in the past (the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ) secures our justification and on going sanctification in the present and guarantees us of our hope of glorification in the future. So, this is what Homecoming should really be all about: looking back to what God has done, to give us hope for what he will continue to do.

 How can it go wrong?

This ultimate purpose of Homecoming, however, can easily be hijacked by the good things that surround it. Can you imagine if a group of Israelites got together to celebrate the Passover, and they enjoyed the meal, had a great time of fellowship, sang the traditional Psalms, but completely forgot to talk about Egypt and God’s faithfulness throughout that experience. They would have completely missed the point! Sure, the food and the fellowship, and the singing were all good, God-ordained parts of the celebration, but idolatry is born when we make the good things the main thing. The same is true today. I love the food, the people, the songs, but they are not the main thing. God is the main One, and if Homecoming or any other part of church life for that matter becomes more about what we like than who God is, we’ve missed the point. It’s like throwing a wedding reception and leaving out the bride and groom. We have one maybe two days per week together as the people of God. Those days, even if it is Homecoming, are far too precious to spend focused on ourselves. All of our days for that matter are far to precious to waste on ourselves. So whether your church has Homecoming or not, it is important to stop and remember. But remember that the power is not in the memories themselves but what they teach us about our great God.

And that’s why I love Homecoming.

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