Friday, May 19, 2017
“O, what a foretaste of glory divine!” — Frances J. Crosby (from the hymn “Blessed Assurance”)
I have become convinced that we do indeed get “a foretaste of glory divine,” a taste, a sense of what heaven will be like—while we are still here and yet alive. It would surprise me to learn of any of you who have not felt your heart warm or a smile cross your lips when you thought of a special person who had special significance for you but is no longer here to see or touch or hear. All kinds of things bring these on, dreams, smells, a physical object, an old photograph, or seeing someone else doing something that kindles a flame inside your heart. I can’t work a jigsaw puzzle or see one without thinking of my Aunt Helen and smiling inside. I loved her so very much, and whenever we were working a jigsaw puzzle, she would steal one piece so that she could always be the one to put in the last piece. Even now, decades since her death, if a piece is missing, someone will say “Where is it, Aunt Helen?” I met a Tanzanian woman whose smile and heart were so full of the Holy Spirit that she reminded me of several women I have known whose hearts were filled with nothing but love, and it almost made me tremble. Sometimes a smell can remind you of your grandmother’s kitchen, or your father’s den, or of a favorite spot where you remembered being loved. My Aunt Albina almost loved me too much. When we would eat at her house she would say, “You only had four helpings! You don’t like my cooking? You don’t think I love you?” To this day, just getting second helpings of anything makes her alive in my heart again. I truly believe that these instances of warm memory and happiness are God’s way of saying, “There, there. Everything’s going to be all right.” (If you’re a grammar fanatic like I am, it’s “There, their, they’re.) The other day I saw a father walking down the path near our mission carrying his young son on his shoulders and laughing with him. Seeing that evoked a memory of my walking home from the first grade in Dallas, Texas, and finding my father waiting for me several blocks from our house and asking, “Say kid, what say we go see a movie?” We walked, hand in hand, to the local movie theater and saw an Abbot and Costello movie and laughed a lot together. The picture at the right is of my father shortly before his death, and it makes me happy every time I see it. Just hearing the words oyster or clam reminds me of the day I watched him eat three dozen cherrystone clams at the Union Oyster House in Boston—it was a happy time in his life and mine. It doesn’t take much to take me back to a time when I was so very, very happy. I don’t think that that is an accident or a coincidence. I think God reminds us of those times when we felt so very safe, so very loved, so very happy to remind us that all that and more still awaits us. As a pastor, I was once with a man who was dying and surrounded by crying and upset family members. He called me to him and whispered, “Get them away from my bed.” I had them all stand in a semicircle facing away from his bed so that we could pray for him. I could see him behind them suddenly sit up and make a casting motion as if he was holding a fishing rod, and then start reeling it in. He looked right in my eye, winked, collapsed on the bed and passed from here to there. I am sure God was giving him “a foretaste of glory divine” just before his death. It is almost impossible to get through this life without these “tastes” of what is to come if we just recognize them for what they are. The older I get, the more meaningful they become. My wife, reaching for my hand, just to get a quick squeeze for reassurance after over fifty years of marriage, that’s the kind of thing I mean. The next time you feel your heart “strangely warmed” or smile inwardly as you remember something that was wonderful, remember the words of the hymn, “Blessed Assurance” because it is true that we are both assured and blessed.