I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven ... (Matthew 8:11)
"We'll see you there at 6:15." I heard my husband say before he hung up the phone. We had traveled back from a business trip earlier that afternoon and had been home only a couple of hours. Speaking through a yawn I raised up from my nap to ask who he was talking to.
"Jeff. We're going to dinner with Michelle and him." Still a bit groggy, I slid out of bed after glancing at the time on the clock. It seemed strange that he wanted to go out for dinner after having driven for several hours, but I didn't question him. I did ask, however, if he had made reservations and when he told me that he hadn't, I decided to call ahead and make some for us. When the hostess answered the phone, I gave her my last name.
"Are you with the large party tonight?" she asked.
"No, there will just be four of us in our party." I answered without hesitation.
Later on, when we walked into the restaurant, I turned to Mike and explained that I had called ahead and gotten us a reservation. I was sure he would be greatly relieved since the parking lot was packed with cars. He just nodded to me and quickly turned to the hostess. She grinned back.
"Right this way, please." She said as she motioned for us to follow. She led us down the hall to a room in the back of the restaurant. I could see through the glass that there were at least fifty people standing in the room. When she slowly opened the French doors, I looked in and saw, of all people, my Dad, standing inside the door.
"Daddy? What are you doing here?" I stammered.
Immediately, I saw that standing next to him was my friend from our first home; from her I learned just how much you can love a friend when, at seven, I had to move away. Behind her was my cousin and two of my co-workers; there were people with whom I spend holidays and people with whom I spend weekdays all standing together in that room. I felt as if I had entered a dream. Everywhere I turned I saw face after face from my whole life. Mike guided me, dumbfounded, through the crowd. Friends from college were there with their children; they were sharing tables with friends from church as if they'd always known each other. It took the entire evening to make my way around the room and thank everyone who rearranged plans and made a special effort to make this a wonderful surprise party. The only bad part about it was that it ended much too soon.
I'm thankful for that night. I was reminded of the blessing of family and of friendship, but there was something else that'll stay with me forever. In the surrealism of the first few moments of the party, I kept thinking to myself that must be what it's like to enter heaven, when everywhere we look there are loving, familiar faces smiling back at us. Every soul who has ever touched our life will be waiting there to welcome us. We will know one another like we never dreamed possible on earth. We'll spend endless time reminiscing with those with whom we only briefly encountered while here on earth. We'll finally get to sit and talk again with grandparents ... and the grandparents of their grandparents. Oh what a surprise party it is going to be!
For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the call of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, all the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air and remain with him forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17)
Those who live in the Lord never see each other the last time. German Proverb