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A Fresh Start

July 20, 2015

The choir of my church is extraordinary, burgeoning out beyond the choir stall onto the pastor’s platform. Its members go on vacation in July, but enough voices remain to sing on Sunday, with volunteers filling in the empty places. Independence Day fell on Saturday this year, so Sunday the 5th gave the first opportunity for volunteers to join the remaining singers. What a thrill to hear so many voices supplementing the missing members and worshiping God with song.

The assistant director chose “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, a stirring song, and the favorite of Abraham Lincoln. Recently a young white man shot six black members and the pastor of a Methodist Church in Charleston. In an act of love and mercy, the victims’ families expressed forgiveness for the murderer. Their faith does not require vengeance, and racial enmity must rest with the dead from the Civil War. As a result, South Carolina furled and put away the confederate flag flying over civil buildings, to store in museums, where the past can be examined but not be hurtful.

In 1862 Julia Ward Howe wrote the Battle Hymn while she was visiting her husband across the Potomac River battlefield. She saw the campfires across the river and felt the “evening dews and damp”. The tune was adapted from a previous song, “John Brown’s Body”, commemorating the abolitionist’s attack on Fort Sumter and his death in 1859. The words were inspired by a dream, and Mrs. Howe woke with a start to write them down before they escaped. At a time when the Union appeared to be losing the war, she wrote of its victory.

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.

He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword.

His truth is marching on.”

As the sun streamed through the stained glass windows, a kettle drum and trumpet emphasized the beat and sent the music above the wooden rafters of the church. Through all the verses, the choir lifted their voices, until the last when the entire congregation joined in –

In the beauty of the lilies, Christ was born across the sea,

With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me.

As he died to make men holy, we shall die to make men free,

While God is marching on.

The song is a reminder of a time when slavery was legal, but those who opposed it gave their lives so all mankind could live free. The words remind us of God’s judgment for wickedness, as told in Revelation. I can shed tears for those who have had the courage to correct a moral wrong with their lives, and I reckon God will take care of those who act in hatred.

And the pastor said, “Amen!”

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