❝Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe-the best one-and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.❞ Luke 15:21-24
Reflection by Peggy Clements
Welcome. Speaking the word has a comforting sound; it produces a physical response in our bodies. I believe it is likely that most people would describe in detail what welcome looks like–maybe something resembling a commercial at Christmas on the Hallmark channel. What is unlikely is that most people have actually experienced anything of the sort. This image of welcome is neither an emotional nor economic reality for the great majority of people. An orchestrated snapshot of a moment–it’s for show.
For me, welcome feels like someone coming to greet me, a genuine touch that says, “I’m glad to see you.” It has a temperate climate–it actually feels warm. This kind of welcome comes out of the joy of a strong bond in spirit. Sometimes it carries tears of deep unspoken caring. Welcome means you have time for me, I am important to you. It means you want to be here, right here, right now, with me.
The son stood in the pigpen he made of his life, as I once did in a major way. Every consort had abandoned us. Bankrupt in every way, we went to the only certain shelter we knew–home. It wasn’t our first choice; it was our only choice.
The son and I turned toward home though the type of reception we would receive was not assured. After all, we had made a mess: causing the financial losses, embarrassing the family, neglecting our place in the family business. We had been out of control, and had become a slave to the imaginations of our own hearts. God have mercy. Rehearsing the confession was only the beginning of the turmoil in our minds; owning up to hidden shame provided fresh panic in every imagined outcome.
Somehow as my father offered the merciful reception that I craved in the words, “Come here,” I knew he must have faced similar challenges in his young life. Perhaps he had never received a warm reception or felt a loved one’s compassion; maybe he had not been given the time to discover his own options to decide how to live his life.
To know the face of mercy, to hear acknowledgement that we have each failed on many fronts and not measured up even to our own expectations–this is the true welcome that we all desire.
While the son was yet a great while off, his father saw him, and ran to him, kissed and hugged him. The son had carefully rehearsed his words of repentance, all mixed up in his desperation for survival and his need to unburden himself of the shame, regret, and guilt of his failure. The son began his words of confession, yet even before he had finished speaking, his father began rejoicing. Reconciliation was not instantly accomplished, but it had begun.
This was true welcome–embrace, tears of joy for the return of a beloved, compassion, and forgiveness. And as sung by the Wailin’ Jennys, it feels like Heaven When We’re Home.