This weekend was bittersweet for our family. My father, a pastor, retired after forty years in the ministry. The last twenty-eight of those years he spent at the same church in Michigan. He took a call there when I was in the fifth grade. I consider it my home church. It’s strange to think of my parents going anywhere else. But retiring is different for a pastor than for other vocations. If someone retires from an office job, say, there’s no need to switch churches as well. However, when a pastor retires, in most cases he leaves his church as well. This is difficult, because often that’s their support network and social circle. These are the people who have celebrated together in good times and pulled together in difficult times; people who worship together every week. Indeed, they are a church family. And it’s hard to say goodbye to such a family.
The idea of a church as a family is nothing new. The Bible refers multiple times to believers as members of one body. Additionally, we are called brothers and sisters of Christ. So in a very real way, all Christians are related. All believers are family. And this family is not separated by time or space. In a marvelous mystery, whenever we join in worship, we join with all believers of all times and all places. We are united in our confession of Christ. As we pray in the Proper Preface of the communion liturgy, “Therefore with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Your glorious name…” You see, we aren’t confined to worshiping with fellow believers in our particular church building. Yes, we form a closer bond to those we see on a weekly basis, but think of the bigger picture–we are worshiping with the entire Church on earth and the whole company of heaven! That’s a pretty big family.
So although we may have to say goodbye on earth for a season, one day we’ll all be around God’s throne worshiping together with those who have gone before us and those who will come after us. That’s a worship service I don’t want to miss. And we’ll never have to say goodbye again.