A little over a year ago, as we said goodbye to the Duke Lutherans, I began to think about the purpose of this ritual of saying goodbye. As I mined Christian theological traditions, I found a treasure trove of liturgical resources that commended a different approach: godspeed and farewell. I even wrote a song about it, called (shockingly enough) Godspeed and Farewell.
Of course, this seems only a subtle semantic change, if not a slight of hand, since the etymological origins of goodbye are actually, "God be with you," or colloquially, "God be wit ye," from Celtic English speakers. So what's the difference?
Goodbye, whatever its origins, retains almost none of the divine intent originally behind the word. God, and therefore theology, need have nothing to do with goodbyes.
But godspeed and farewell retains not only the sense of divine presence in the relationship, but also the sense that, in God, this parting is not the last time we will be together. We are bid godspeed to journey toward the Kingdom of God and farewell that our journey might be successful.
For the relationship, this means something significant: neither party retains ultimate control of the future. When we say goodbye, the future is entirely up to us. When we say godspeed and farewell, we know that our failures and our frailty cannot prevent our reunion.
So, hopefully, we've said more godspeeds lately. Godspeed and farewell lives in the hope wrapped up in the cries of the father of a dying child: "Lord I believe; help my unbelief." Sometimes even our belief is not strong enough for assurance, and so we say goodbye in the hope that, despite our struggles, God will reconcile all things in and through Christ.