Just came back from a three week trip to the Pacific North West — Vancouver and Seattle, with a side trip to Calgary. We made a similar trip last year. I can summarise this trip in two words — work, and friends. Work, well, the volume of work this time was about three times that of last year. This meant less time for stuff like sight seeing and shopping. But, like last year, we had many opportunities to visit with friends. There were old friends and new friends, good friends who became close friends, teachers who were now friends, and mentorees who were now peers and our teachers. We feasted on friendship, and as we have long discovered, friendship is life giving, as important as food and water.
A large part of friendship is the sharing of our stories. Friendship is built and strengthened and enjoyed when we open our lives to each other. This requires honest sharing and careful listening and both require energy. And so yes, there were times when the many meet ups did tire us but we knew that many of the friends we were seeing were friends we hardly see — maybe once a year. And so we met up with as many as we could.
Good byes were awkward. There were the usual promises to meet up again next year — we seem to be making one trip to North America a year — or sooner for those who were planning to come by Asia. Dr. J. I. Packer took us for lunch at the Cheshire Cheese Inn and promised to do so again the next time we were in town. One friend wrote on Facebook after we left (we had stayed with them): ‘”Your” room looks very empty. Loved having you visit us and meeting your friends!’ But will we meet again this side of heaven? We don’t know. All promises to meet again have the unarticulated proviso: Insha’Allah/Deo Volente/if the Lord is willing (James 4:15).
As the old Sergio Mendes song reminds us: “The Trouble with Hello is Goodbye.” Fortunately, for followers of Jesus, there are no final goodbyes. We have a lasting bond.
We are friends of Jesus not in a sentimental fashion, but as participants in the divine life. If we dare to claim boldly that friendship, then we can also trust in the lasting bond among each other. This mutual friendship is the splendid fruit of our kinship with Jesus. It is much more than an idea. Rather, this friendship is a tangible reality. (Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak, New York, NY: Doubleday, 1988, 185.)
The apostle Paul also had to assure the believers in the church at Thessalonica that though some of their own had died, and Christ had not yet returned, there would be no final goodbyes for those who belong to the Lord.
Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13 – 18 NET)
I. Howard Marshall comments:
. . . the Lord’s people go to meet him in order to escort him back to the earth and that is where they shall always be with the Lord. . . . What matters, however, is not the place of meeting, in which Paul is not interested, but the fact of being with the Lord. . . . Moreover, this relationship is one which involves Christ and his people as a whole and is not simply between Christ and the individual Christian. It follows that the parousia leads to the reunion of dead and living Christians in the one people of the Lord. (1 and 2 Thessalonians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983, 131)
Tempus fugit. Indeed time flies. We have been back in Singapore three days and already in the thick of things here. Quickly the demands of the now and the morrow begin to crowd out the memories of our trip. But there is a glow, a warmth that remains, a memory of people we left behind, precious friends, treasures. And once in awhile we pause to remember and remember how many dear friends we have in Vancouver, Seattle, and now Calgary also, and other parts of Canada.
We miss you all, and hope we can meet again soon. Next year? Sooner? Or at the final reunion? Well, we will meet again. No final goodbyes. So Dr. Packer, next year at the Cheshire Cheese Inn, or at another establishment, or at the Final Banquet! No final goodbyes.