Summer’s many occasions of homecomings – family reunions, soldiers returning from distant deployments, college students spending a final time with parents before moving to jobs and graduate schools, old friends reunited after years of long-distance relationships – all patterns of behavior visible across human history.
Mixed with all the well-known welcomings are the less visible but even more important homecomings involving reconciliations: grudges given up, animosities forgotten, sharp, narrow, hurtful words dismissed, anger calmed, jealousies resolved, hatred banished, hope rediscovered, love renewed, narrowness broadened, self-righteousness transformed to holiness.
The hospitality of forgiveness embraces the actions in the Parable of the Prodigal: Running out to returnees, embracing them, and kissing them. Clothing them with the best clothes, making them honored guests. Offering the best food and throwing a big party with the best wine and food. And hardest of all for those who believe right is on their side first and most, not asking for excuses or explanations, setting self-limiting judgment aside, and showing inexhaustible joy that they are with us again. (See the Gospel of Luke 15: 20-24).
“It is forgiving from the heart without a trace of self-righteousness, recrimination, or even curiosity. The past is wiped out. What counts is the here and now, where all that fills our hearts is gratitude for the homecoming of our brothers and sisters,” and to those would be added in every description beloved friends, companions, confidantes, mentors, and lovers by more names than we know, as Nouwen Priest Henri has described.
The past is wiped out, if it ever mattered. What counts is the here and now, where all that fills our hearts is gratitude for the homecoming, because the distances maintained were more in our own minds and hearts than in God’s.
“That is being perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect,” writes Nouwen. “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”