While I was thinking about Homecoming Sunday, I was going through some records of previous ABC Homecomings over the years. I was struck by names of people from the church’s past who are no longer with us. Where are they? Well, we have commemorated them at funeral services, which we often refer to as “Homegoings.” They’ve gone home.

Wait a minute: Homecoming, Homegoing. Which is it? What confusing language.

A passage from our current sermon series study of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church may shed some light on this.

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. (Philippians 3:17-21)

This is a very intimate letter. Paul mentions a number of people by name. It’s clear that Paul had a special relationship with the people at the First Baptist Church of Philippi. In fact, he was looking forward to fellowshipping with them at some Homecoming Sunday in the near future (Philippians 2:24).

But at the same time, he wanted to remind them that, as good as their earthly fellowship was, being physically reunited in a Homecoming with them would only be a shadow of his ultimate and true Homegoing. He expresses the contrast in these words:

Their minds are set on earthly things, but our citizenship is in heaven.

The English word citizenship is interesting; it contains the word city. Citizens of a place identify with that location. Their roots are there, sometimes going back for generations.

The Greek word behind it, polis, is also interesting. From this term for city, we have evolved a number of English words, including police, policy, polite and politics.

Being formally a citizen of a significant city was very important in the Greek and Roman world of Paul’s day. His ability to proclaim that he was a citizen of Rome, the great empire capital city, got Paul himself preferential treatment in the eyes of the law.

Even in our day of much greater mobility, the question “Where are you from?” is often asked to help us understand another person.* Those of us for whom Altadena Baptist Church is the place where we came to faith in Jesus, or where we were helped through a difficult time in our lives, will feel the gravitational attraction of Homecoming Sunday on November 4. But we will also be reminded that the joy of this Homecoming will be nothing compared to the total fulfillment we anticipate at our Homegoing, whenever that may come.

— Pastor George Van Alstine

* Want a laugh? Check out this twist on the “Where are you from?” question.