“If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
My mind carries significant memories as if they are snapshots or photos I can retrieve from my subconscious. Photos can transport an individual to a place never visited or rekindle a long-forgotten memory. Photographs are a curious thing because while they conjure good feelings and emotions in general, the most awe-inspiring scene or memory can never fully be captured in a two-dimensional snapshot. Often photos give us a sense of longing for a time when things seemed easier or better.
As I think of the approaching Thanksgiving holiday, a single snapshot emerges of Thanksgiving 2021. If I had to grant a title to this snapshot, it would be, "I wanted you to be here too." I am seated around the table with my husband, my children, my grandma, and my uncle. It's a table full of amazing Thanksgiving food and filled with love and family. If you were to see only this snapshot, you would think it was a perfect Thanksgiving. Yet the emotions that I associate with this snapshot include an aching within my heart. It is a tremendous blessing to join friends and family around a Thanksgiving table, and yet this activity can also bring into sharp focus the family members and friends who are not present at the table. The reason for the absence can vary from family conflict, to geographical distance, to death or illness. When people are missing from our Thanksgiving table, it hurts.
In 2021, we had planned to celebrate Thanksgiving at my mom and dad's house. My sister and I would both contribute food to make one extravagant Thanksgiving feast! A couple of days prior to Thanksgiving, my parents and my sister's family developed cold symptoms. With COVID looming over us and the recognition that we would be in an enclosed space with my grandma, who was in her nineties, and my uncle, who was in his eighties, my parents and sister made the painful yet loving decision to excuse themselves from our Thanksgiving meal. My mom and sister offered to still contribute food which would give my grandma and uncle a relatively normal Thanksgiving Day. My mom would shuttle all the food to my house while my husband would drive to pick up my grandma and uncle for the special day. I remember feeling my heart ache as my mom delivered the food to my house. I was grateful, but my heart screamed, "I wanted you to be here too!"
That evening as we gathered around the table filled with a delicious spread of food, there was an ache that we all experienced over the family members who could not attend. As we went around the table sharing what we were grateful for, my grandma shared that she was thankful to be with us, and yet she shook her head in sadness as she stated, "I am the last one left of my siblings." She wanted them to be there too. This year in March of 2022, my grandma entered eternal life. As we gather around the table this year, the sentiment will be the same, the food will most likely be delicious, but an ache will remain as we all think, "I wanted her to be here too."
The Holy Scriptures act like memories by providing snapshots of significant events that create longing. Some of those snapshots include:
- A beautiful Garden, a tree with tempting fruit, a serpent, and two people scrambling to make clothing to hide their nakedness
- Brothers feuding
- A flood with an ark
- Families who hurt and betray one another
- People who consistently turn their backs on God
- A humble birth with a child placed in a manager
- Baptisms and healings
- Anguished prayer in a garden
- Supper with a traitor
- A terrible walk with a heavy cross, three crosses on a hill, vinegar on a sponge, a spear piercing the side of an innocent man, and a tomb with a stone placed in front,
- Three women with spices to care for the body of their Lord,
- An empty tomb where there had not been the night before
- And finally, the Holy Spirit on the disciple's heads like tongues of fire, Christ ascending to heaven in clouds and the proclamation, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also" (John 14:1).
In this verse, it is as if Christ were saying, "I did it all because I wanted you to be here too!" There is no limit to the inclusiveness of that "you!" Scripture's snapshots create a longing like those that are experienced when flipping through personal photos. Within this ache, we long to experience the perfection God had intended for us in the garden. We ache to understand why the fall took place and how sin now permeates all of creation. We ache in eager anticipation as we see Christ in action and as we take in the snapshots of his life, death, and resurrection. This ache also points us toward the final snapshot in the book of Revelation:
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away" (Rev. 21:1-4).
Here, we see the restoration of creation as all brokenness is healed. We witness a heavenly banquet that rivals our Thanksgiving feasts in its extreme grandeur. Every tear has been wiped from the faces of its attendees because Christ has restored the perfection of the garden, and once again, we are in perfect step with him and our neighbor.
As we enter into this Holiday season with the usual longing, may we remember that Jesus Christ, our Savior, experienced betrayal, heartache, and loss in all the ways we do. He died a terrible death on the cross in our place, and he ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us at his holy banquet table. As we gather around the communion rail to participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion, we enter this final banquet. In receiving Christ's very body and blood, my grandma and all the saints who have gone before us are there with us as we hear the Heavenly Father's welcoming words, "I wanted you to be here too!"