Down here in the South, family is really important. That’s why family reunions are often major annual events.
A few summers ago, I went to my family reunion in L.A. (Lower Alabama) held at the “mother church” where there was food (to the tenth power), hugs, kisses, and, for me, reacquaintance with long lost cousins. I felt like I was speed dating when one cousin would sit and talk for a while and then be replaced by another one. This went on for almost a whole afternoon. Before dark, we walked through the headstones of the church cemetery where many of my ancestors are buried. Apparently the cemetery visit was a tradition at this event. Both of my grandparents and some of their children on my father’s side are buried in that cemetery, side by side, of course.
On that journey, I listened to the relatives talking about each aunt, uncle or grandparent as they would stop and say something (kind words, of course) about each one. I began to notice at a point, that some would stop in front of my grandfather’s headstone and smile. Not laugh out loud, but just smile. That was the day, I noticed for the first time the dates on my grandfather’s headstone. Born June 8, 1898…died September 31, 1956. Wait a minute. September 31? Let’s see “thirty days hath September”…so there was no September 31…a mistake…and that’s what brought the smiles (which I was told would have pleased my jovial grandfather immensely.)
That reminded me that some mistakes are etched in stone, and they never go away. They’re always visible and accuse us every time we see them. However, sometimes etchings are merciful and removable like when the gulf rolls in and sweeps away a message or a castle. Which ones are which? Permanent or wiped clean? Earthly consequences of past errors in judgment and sins can last a long time. But all of our missteps can be forgiven (and even erased) by God’s grace. It’s called redemption.
My mother collected S&H Green Stamps at the Piggly Wiggly. (For those of you in another generation, that’s like bonus points or rewards that one collects with various purchases.) Anyway, the stamps worked just like today’s points in that when you had enough, you could redeem them. In those days, we went to the redemption center where we could turn our books of stamps in to receive “valuable” items such as small appliances, dry goods, and even toys. I was smart enough to figure out that this exchange was trading something of little worth on its own (the stamps) for something of great worth (at least to me). That’s where I learned what this scripture meant. God said,
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name; you are Mine!” Isaiah 43:1