Eternal Family Circle-by john lawrence gillis

 Image: Charmelody via flickr

Image: Charmelody via flickr

Once upon a brilliant Sunday evening, in late June of 2013...

I saw an excruciating cloud.

High in the southern sky above Fifth Street, it resembled nothing less than a whip.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A whip!

And it immediately reminded me of Good Friday.

The first minute of my next computer session confirmed it was the Roman flagrum, an instrument of torture with lead balls and mutton bones at the ends of leather straps.  The wounds it inflicted were so deep it often resulted in death.

There was, however, a significant visual difference. The five or six "cords" of the formation were not attached to the handle; they were also short, and curled.

It took me a day or so to "translate" this image.  I almost wish I hadn't.

The cords were like broken-off "arcs" from God's family circle.
 

We like to think of Heaven as perfect bliss, exclusively.   But if, as the Bible itself states, it's possible to "grieve" the Holy Spirit -- is Heaven not also a place of grief, a place of "deep wounds" caused by our stubborn, prodigal distance from God the Father?
 

***

"Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God's people and also members of his household." (Eph 2:19 NIV)

“...you are members of God's family." (NLT)
 

In 1986, during the heady days of "glasnost" that eventually led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, I was commissioned to write a song.

The long Cold War had finally begun to thaw, and doors were now open on both sides for "citizen diplomacy."  A group I was associated with opened their homes to Russian high school students for an extended stay.  Shortly after their arrival, we all gathered at a community center to celebrate.

Later in the evening they sang Russian folk songs, and I sang the tenor part of the duet I'd written.  I also had the lyrics translated into Russian, including the title: "Adna Familia."  (I later discovered that the Russian word for family is "semya," not "familia."  But "Adna Familia" seems truer to the spirit of the song -- two very different languages, in one title.)

The song brought tears to many eyes.  Unfortunately, they were exclusively American tears!  The students hadn't come halfway 'round the world to feel warm and fuzzy about "people-to-people" statecraft. They were Russia's foremost science nerds!  Their only goal was to learn more about state-of-the-art computing.  The words "Mac" (as in Apple) and "Big Mac" may have been the only English they knew!

It's been almost two decades since I last performed the song, and I'm not sure I'll ever play it again.  Presuming I could reconstruct the intricate chord pattern, I'd also have to get my "chops" back, not to mention my callouses, the only way one can survive a vintage Martin 12-string without blood.

But I well remember the lyrics of One Family.  Naive as they may sound to a more cynical generation, they still ring, and sing true:

We breathe the same air
And the sun shines on all of us, equally.
It has no enemies.
We cherish our children, and laughter and holiday,
And we grieve at our grandfather's grave.

Our faces, all colors
Yet we bleed the same red
For liberty and kinship we hunger
 more than bread.
We speak different tongues
But we sing the same song
It is peace, above all, we so long

Let the ties that bind us
Be our sole pursuit
The bonds that shall set the world free...
 from the lies that blind us to the singular truth:

We are all one
We are one family

One family, adna familia,
adna familia, one family
We speak different tongues
But we sing the same song
It is peace, above all, we so long.

If only they knew that what I really meant by "peace" is closer to "Shalom," which means so much more than the "absence of war."

Shalom is more a poem than a mere word, and is best translated as fully alive, heart, mind, body and soul.

Shalom means deep connection with family and community, in covenant with God ...

And its best synonyms are verbs: bloom, embrace, flourish, glow, prosper, rejoice, and sing!

The Russian students should be settled 40-something scientists by now.  Let's find a translated, before it's too late!

***

“Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.  So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” (Hebrews 2:11, NIV)

"Then he looked at those sitting in a circle around him and said 'Here are my mother and brothers!   Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother.'" (Mark 3:34, NIV)

Yes, dear friends, Jesus really said this -- in bright red letters.

But we still can't quite believe it, and we're half-afraid of the simple logic:  If we who do His Father's will are His true brothers and sisters, is He not our Brother?

I'm so happy it's not that simple, because the answer is yes and no.

First, it must be said that the only begotten Son does not have seven billion siblings!  And I don't believe that addressing Him as "Brother" is preferable to "Lord," for the simple reason that "brother" is not always a word that inspires reverence.

But it should also be said that reverence is not the opposite of informality.  Jesus Himself would often address His Father as "Abba," a term of endearment and intimacy.

Therefore, the meaning we should take from Hebrews and Mark is that our relationship with God must necessarily begin on our knees, but ultimately ends in His eternal, familial embrace!

***

"...so is my Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:11 (NIV)

In the beginning (Alpha), His Word goes forth, resounding beyond the furthest reach of time and space, until it finally returns, full circle, "every purpose under Heaven" fulfilled (Omega).

From Eden to the New Jerusalem...

From the big bang to new heavens and a new earth...

Full Circle.

But through the promise God made to Abraham -- that through his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed...

His Word ultimately returns as full family circle.

Eternal family circle of God.