Last Sunday was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. The Orthodox Church remembers this Sunday yearly.It is one of three special Sundays preceding Great Lent. The first is the Sunday of the Publican and the Pharisee. The second is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, and the third is the Sunday of the Last Judgement.
An icon of the son being received in a loving embrace by his father is displayed, a visual reminder of this relationship and the healing that comes as we move into the loving kindness of God. A special hymn is chanted:
When I disobeyed in ignorance Thy fatherly glory, I wasted in iniquities the riches that Thou gavest me. Wherefore, I cry to Thee with the voice of the prodigal son, saying, I have sinned before Thee, O compassionate Father, receive me repentant, and make me as one of Thy hired servants. – See more at: http://lent.goarch.org/prodigalson/learn/#sthash.VC88gYNt.dpuf
I’ve not met many people who don’t know this story — of a son who asked for his inheritance, essentially wishing the father dead. Of a father who gave that inheritance, the son squandering everything he had in the far places and then suddenly, in the squalor of a pigs sty, coming to his senses. “I’m going home” he says to himself. “I can’t live like this anymore. The pain of my choices is all too much. The servants in my father’s house live better than this.”
So he comes home. His father, who had waited for him all these years, daily looking out so he would be first to greet him when he finally made his way back home, runs to him. Of course, there’s the older brother sulking, angry that this little punk who had ruined his life was being treated as a long, lost treasure.
The story is about God – about this father that waits and longs for the return of his children.
I don’t know many parents that don’t have a prodigal, it seems to come with the territory. And we’re not God – so we don’t always wait patiently, daily looking to see if they will return home. Sometimes we spew angry words through letters or phone calls. Often we are so consumed with our hurt that we think harmful thoughts of these ones who we love so much, who we call our sons and daughters.
When you give birth you don’t know you’ll have a prodigal. You cradle that baby thinking you never loved so much and so hard. You laugh at that toddler’s faltering steps as they reach out to you, encouraging them each step. “You can do it! Come to mommy!” You write down the words and phrases, so funny to you alone. “Frogs sucking on my fingers.” “Let me go, let me jump, let me hurt my lip.” You brace yourself at kindergarten as you realize you are relinquishing some of your organized and tight control to a world that will not appreciate this child the way you do.
Each award and milestone leaves memories stamped in permanent ink in your mind. You try and capture some of this with pictures, but mostly its captured in the heart.
And then for many of us, prodigal years come and you never thought you’d hurt so much. You don’t know how to give God, the one who knows prodigals so well and loves them so much, your prodigal. The hurt comes and goes at odd times. You treasure occasional awkward phone calls and you confess. You go through your parenting like a fine tooth comb through a head of lice. Finding all the nits and lice of what you did wrong, ultimately having to rest in your imperfection and God’s abundant grace. It’s hard to express this to other people of faith — Because other people have ‘good’ children, and you apparently don’t.
They felt good eyes upon them and shrank within-undone;
good parents had good children and they- a wandering one.
The good folks never meant to act smug or condemn,
but having prodigals just “wasn’t done” with them.
Remind them gently, Lord, how you have trouble with your children too.*
But you slowly learn to hope and rest. You become more like the father, daily going out and praying, looking, but continuing about your business because that is what you’re called to do. The more you pray, the more you realize that you are a prodigal, continually wandering away from God, only to find out that there is no future in the far land. So you run home, and God the Father runs to meet you.
So you pray, and you hope, and sometimes the day comes when this great schism ends. Only Heaven could possibly understand the joy in your heart.
All creation waits as the prodigal is in the far places. All of creation joins in celebration when the prodigal comes home.
Every year, on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, I pray a prayer I have prayed more times than I could count. “Lord, Let all the prodigals come home.”