Beyond the Sunset, Grindstone, Winter Harbor, Maine
May 31st is Memorial Day, which in the post-civil war period was known as Decoration Day but is now a Federal holiday designated to honor US military veterans. The day is filled with ceremonies, parades, flags, and wreaths in remembrance of all who died in military service and as an expression of gratitude for those who serve or have served. It has also become a day when families decorate graves of loved ones with flowers and meaningful mementos.
Memories may be bitter or sweet and commonly are a bitter-sweet mixture of tears and laughter as one reminisces about the special people with whom we have shared life. Perhaps that poignancy first hit home for me when my mother took my older brother and myself to a Curly O’Brien show in Howland, Maine. (Curly O’Brien was a Maine country singer who had a band with his brother called The Top Hands. He successfully stayed in the Country Music business for a quarter of a century doing radio and TV shows.) During the show that night, there was what some might consider to be a sappy moment. To my youthful, impressionable imagination, it was quite vividly touching and dramatic. The stage darkened; the spotlight focused on a lone cowboy who movingly sang “Beyond the Sunset,” a hymn not previously known to me but one which had been popularized by singers such as Hank Williams and Pat Boone. Soliloquies were mixed into the song and began with the emotionally weighted line “Should you go first and I remain.” For example:
Should you go first and I remain, one thing I’d have you do.
Walk slowly down that long, long path, for soon I’ll follow you
And I’d want to know each step you take that I may walk the same
For someday down that lonely road, you’ll hear me call your name
For some, all this ” beyond the sunset” business is just magical thinking. For others, it is a God-promise to those who trust Him. Although believers may sometimes dress their confidence and ideas of heaven in excessive sentimentality or personal comforting thoughts, their hope (confidence) is based on inspired Words and Promises that will never pass away. (Matt 2:35) (Hebrews 1:1-2)(11 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Psalmist sang, “Blessed be Jehovah, the God of Israel, From everlasting even to everlasting…” (Psalm 106:48)
Isaiah prophesized to Israel, “…O God of Israel, the Savior. ..Israel is saved by the LORD with everlasting salvation; you shall not be put to shame or confounded to all eternity. (Isaiah 45:15-17) Israel understood that God is ever existent and ever present and learned that salvation depended upon repentance and belief.
Christ told many parables referencing heaven, gave prophetic glimpses of the future,(Matthew 13, 24) and addressed all humanity, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24) And prior to miraculously raising her brother from the dead, he astounded Martha by declaring, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die. Do you believe this, Martha?” (John 11:25 -26)
The Apostles Peter and John were there, heard, saw, believed, and confirmed their belief by enduring severe persecution because of it. They proclaimed their faith with these words of encouragement to their audiences. Listen to Peter. ” All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. (1 Peter 1:3-5) And John told his readers, “This is the promise which He Himself made to us: eternal life.”(1 John 2:25) Furthermore, he ended the prophetic Book of Revelation with a glimpse of heaven.“…Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 (ESV)
The believer’s Memorial day is filled with more than past memories. As that long ago lone cowboy sang, there is a sweet future “When with our Savior/ Heaven’s begun,” “Earth’s tolling ended,” “…glorious dawning/When day is done,” “Oh, glad reunion/ With our dear loved ones/Who’ve gone before.”
Magical thinking! No! This confidence is based on God’s character and the trustworthy promises of One who journeyed “beyond the sunset” and then returned to give us eternal hope.