This past year we lost a great songwriter and singer—John Prine. One of the last songs he wrote is called “Summer’s End”…a song he dedicated to those who have died of drug overdoses. The refrain of that song captures the heart of today’s text; you could hear the waiting Father say this to his wayward son: “Come on home; come on home; you don’t have to live alone; just come on home.”
Those are the words our heavenly Father addresses to us at the beginning of Great Lent. They imply that we’ve wandered away, and all of us have. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way.”
Which son are you? Are you the younger son, who took his inheritance and went to a far country and wasted it on worthless things? Have you been starving to death, trying to satisfy that inner hunger with anything—even pods fit for pigs?
Or are you the older son—close in body, but far in soul from the waiting Father?—the son who worked hard every day, and justified himself to himself—who, like Little Jack Horner in the nursery rhyme, said to himself “What a good boy am I!”
Maybe, like me, you’re a mixture of the two. The worst part of Covid hasn’t been the number of deaths, though they’ve been great. It isn’t the lost jobs, or the crashing economy, though they’ve been hard. No; it’s the way that our hearts have been laid bare like the framework of an old house after a hurricane blows through.
If you think about it, both boys in the parable were dead to their dad. When the younger one wished for his inheritance, he was as good as wishing that his dad would die. And when the older boy sulked and complained, he showed his own rebellion—less obvious, but no less deadly.
And yet the Father is not dead toward them. Every day he waits for the younger son’s return. When the older son sulks and separates himself from brother and father, the father talks to him. To both of them, and to us this day, he has the same theme: “Come on home; come on home; you don’t have to live alone—just come on home.” Or, as Isaiah of old said it: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.”
And Isaiah says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; but the Lord has laid on him—Christ—the iniquity of us all.” In other words, the fare for our return trip has been paid. The father in our text killed the fatted calf; but our heavenly Father gave his own Son to bear our curse and taste death for us. The father in our text gives his son a fine robe; but our heavenly Father wraps us in the robe of Christ’s righteousness. The father in our text places a signet ring on his son’s finger; but our heavenly Father seals us with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
When you get down to it, repentance isn’t about feeling miserable—wallowing in our passions or pridefully claiming that we’re smarter than our heavenly and earthly fathers. Repentance is about turning away from ourselves, and turning toward God and each other. “Come on home; come on home; you don’t have to be alone; just come on home.”