I love going to airports. But not when I have to fly. It’s not that I dislike flying. The actual flying is fine. It’s everything else one has to go through these days. The “cattle-call” of the security checkpoint lines where you have to show ID 3 times; emptying all your pockets, your watch and cell phone, your belt, removing your laptop from your brief case; no nail clippers, no liquids over 3 ounces [I lost a wonderful gourmet horse radish sauce to that one]; the anxiety caused because you can’t remember – “do my socks have holes in them?” as you untie your shoes to put them into a bin to be scanned; and the list goes on; & then there is the occasional “privilege” of being invited to a table by the wall waiting while a TSA agent handles every item in your carry-on – it makes me feel “so special!” Once past the checkpoint you experience the “joy” of shuffling single file onto these flying greyhound buses and being shoehorned into seats made for the average 5’0” 100lb contortionist. There’s more but I think you get the idea…it’s not my favorite thing to do.
Still, I love going to airports – not to leave but to watch people coming home. I was recently reminded of going to the airport a few years ago to pick Joyce up as she was coming home from getting her mother resettled in her home in Florida. I got there early [one of my quirks]. As always I position myself near the security checkpoint leading to all gates. I watch others gathered there and those walking toward them from the gates. I watch the faces as people stand on tiptoe and scan every face in the crowd hoping for “that” face they have been waiting for. Those coming from the planes are searching too. Suddenly, eyes light up and grins transform faces, and people press closer, sometimes even running to meet the one they have longed to see. There are hugs and kisses all around!
For a moment everything else fades away. Cell phones are shoved into pockets; brief cases and carry-ons are tossed aside and people gather their loved ones up into their arms. From toddlers to great-grandparents to world weary business travelers and everyone in between - from what I have seen it is almost universal – everyone is looking for someone they recognize as they long to come home at the end of their flight.
But as I watch I have seen a few others in the crowd as well: those waiting for loved ones to return scan the faces of every last passenger only to be left peering down the empty gateway after everyone has come through. Their loved one didn’t come home. And there are passengers who make their way from the gates searching the crowd only to find that everyone who waits, waits for someone else. There is no one to welcome them home. I watch as they sidestep people who have dropped everything for their hugs. They wistfully watch reunions they had hoped to have.
There’s a story in the Gospel of Luke that Jesus tells that is all about airports and coming home. At least it would be if there had been airports back then. It’s about a man and his 2 sons; 1 who asks for his inheritance and leaves home and blows it ALL on things of no value; and 1 who stays home but fails to see the value of all he has. The boy who spent it all finds himself, hungry and lonely and longs to come home. In his hunger for home he finally overcomes his pride and makes the long journey home wondering if his father will accept him back after the way he has turned his back on him and his life and love. The boy finally turns off the road, walks through the gate, and the whole airport scene takes place. His dad has been waiting and watching – peering down the lane hoping to see a face he recognized – THE face he has been waiting so see ever since the boy left home. His dad spots him and he runs. He Runs! He wraps his son in a bear hug, smothers him with kisses, and weeps for joy that his son has come home. It didn’t matter where he had been or what he had done or who he had done it with – he was home!
That’s exactly what God does with us. We want to do our own thing and we wander away. But all the while God is searching for us, waiting and watching for us to come home. It doesn’t matter where we have been or what we have done or with whom, when we finally turn our hearts toward “home” God Runs to meet us. In His love for us God wraps us in His embrace, smothers us with kisses, and weeps for joy for His son, His daughter, has come home.
I got my reunion that day too. The prettiest girl in the airport came up to me and we hugged and kissed and cried. Finally, I took her suitcase and, with my arm around her, we went home. Like I said, I love going to airports. I think God does too.