The little church, nestled in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia, is framed by a creek on one side and a gravel road on the other. Traveling out to the church is to experience a kind of time warp. Driving on Interstate 81, taking the exit onto the two-lane Gate City highway, turning onto an unmarked series of curvy paved roads that gradually descend deeper and deeper into the hills, one finally turns onto a rutted, gravel road that seemingly hasn’t been improved since the days when wagons traveled there. Finally, a little church stands, its parking lot full to overflowing. We park our car halfway in the grass and half in the road. It’s OK. Passerby will just have to use one lane until church lets out.
Being back in the church that four generations of my mother’s family have attended was a mixture of joy and melancholy. Joy because I was reunited with cousins and friends that I rarely get to see. Melancholy because of the faces that were missing. While we stood to sing “Victory in Jesus,” I kept imagining that I caught a glimpse of my Granny and Papa singing in the second pew. I saw my mother singing, tears streaming down her smiling face, while clinching a flowered hanky in her hand. I saw my Aunt Betty teaching little kids in her back room Sunday School Class. I saw the Willow Branch Quartet sharing their shaped note, four-part harmony in acapela style. Then, I blinked and we stood there in the present again.
Presenting this plaque at the church homecoming was great, but it only made me want more. Ever since I was a boy, I always wanted to stay longer, play longer, talk longer. I haven’t changed. I wonder if that desire is a longing for the eternal. I wonder if heaven will finally be the place where we get to stay and talk until we are truly satisfied.
I’m looking forward to that homecoming.