According to www.Newser.com’s Editors and their affiliated Wire Services…
A pair of front-row balcony tickets to Ford's Theatre on April 14, 1865 - the night President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth - have sold at auction for $262,500, according to a Boston-based auction house. The tickets are stamped with the words “Ford's Theatre, APR 14, 1865, This Night Only.” They bear the left-side imprint “Ford's Theatre, Friday, Dress Circle!” and are filled out in pencil with section (“D”) and seat numbers “41” and “42”, according to RR Auction.
The handwritten seating assignments and the circular April 14th-dated stamp match those found on other known authentic tickets, including a used ticket stub in the collection of Harvard University's Houghton Library, auction officials said, per the AP. The Harvard stub, which consists of just the left half of the ticket, is the only other used April 14th Ford's Theatre ticket known to still exist, with similar seat assignments filled out in pencil and a stamp placed identically to the ones on the tickets auctioned off Saturday.
While it may never be known just who the couple was that occupied those seats that infamous night, one can well imagine what they witnessed firsthand! The article continues…
Just after 10pm the night Lincoln was shot, during the third act of the play “Our American Cousin”, Booth entered the presidential box at the theater in Washington, DC, and shot Lincoln. As Lincoln slumped forward in his seat, Booth jumped onto the stage and fled out a back door. The stricken president was examined by a doctor in the audience and carried across the street to the Petersen House, where he died early the next morning. Booth evaded capture for 12 days but was eventually tracked down at a Virginia farm and fatally shot.
As I read this article, I could not help but think about an article first published in 1967 by sociologist Robert N. Bellah titled “Civil Religion in America”, which I was first assigned to read back in seminary. In it, he posits that Americans embrace a common civil religion with certain fundamental beliefs, values, holidays, and rituals in parallel to, or independent of, their chosen religion.
He asserts that George Washington is seen as (God) the Father who created America; Abraham Lincoln is seen as (God) the Son who was slain for the fundamental sin of America (slavery); and, as is signified by the eternal flame that continuously burns at his grave in Arlington Cemetery, John F. Kennedy is seen as (God) the Holy Spirit who continues to inspire America.
Admittedly, being written just four years after Kennedy’s assassination, one might conclude that Bellah’s article is dated; but that in no way discounts his assertions here!
I myself have personally been privileged to tour much of our nation’s capital and its related historical environs. One certainly senses the power and presence of Washington at places such as Mt. Vernon, Valley Forge, Washington’s Crossing, and a string of battlefields all across New Jersey and New York. Clearly our Founding Father labored mightily to bring this nation into existence.
I have also stood entranced at the grave of John F. Kennedy, with my mind being flooded with such inspiring phrases as “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”; “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty”; and above all, “There can be no progress if people have no faith in tomorrow”. All these things clearly pointed America to her future!
Still, it is the rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln that is most remembered and most cherished by his fellow Americans! One cannot help but feel the forcefulness of his words as he or she stands in the memorial dedicated to him in our nation's capitol and gazes upon the quotations chiseled in stone there.
As Wikipedia puts it:
In just 271 words, beginning with the now famous phrase “Four score and seven years ago”, referring to the signing of the Declaration of Independence 87 years earlier, Lincoln described the U.S. as a nation “conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”, and represented the Civil War as a test that would determine whether such a nation could endure. Lincoln extolled the sacrifices of those who died at Gettysburg in defense of those principles, and then urged that the nation ensure:
“that these dead shall not have died in vain - that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom - and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
But even today, if one truly wants to fully appreciate the magnitude of Abraham Lincoln and the role he played in our country’s history, it is arguable that such an experience can better be experienced at Ford’s Theatre than at the Lincoln Memorial.
For it is here that Lincoln did more than just speak his convictions; it is here that he laid down his life for those very convictions. And in so doing, as Bellah rightly argues, Lincoln indeed becomes a type of God the Son, Jesus Christ, who accepted his own personal destiny in the great struggle for right and wrong, and who then gave all he could give for his fellow man.
Unlike the unknown holders of the two tickets above, I myself was not physically present the night of Lincoln’s shooting and ensuing death. And yet, as an American, there is indeed a sense in which I was there.
As one who benefitted from the rights and freedoms he extolled, espoused, and safeguarded, as one who still sees the need to cherish and defend those same rights and freedoms, and as one who is inspired even today by Lincoln’s own willingness to deliver those rights to me, when I visited Ford’s Theatre, I felt as if I was mysteriously drawn there, and that for a reason.
It was as though I was there to bear witness to one to whom I was indebted, to acknowledge his efforts on my behalf, and to commit myself to live worthy of him and his efforts from that day forward as long as I lived in this country.
If you are wondering what my point in all of this is, then here it is. If the things Bellah has asserted are true of civil religion in America (and I think they are), then how much more are they true of the Christian faith upon which they are clearly based and drawn?!
I myself have clearly seen the abundant evidence of the mighty creative acts of God the Father all about me. I remain astounded each and every day at the record of the Divine effort to produce all of creation and the world in which I live.
I myself have also clearly experienced the power of God the Holy Spirit to inspire and motivate me to apply myself to all God has for me both today and in the future, and to reach for and obtain all that He intends me to be and accomplish in the process.
But above all, I myself have personally born witness to the person and work of God the Son, Jesus Christ! Was I physically there to witness the birth of the Messiah? No. Was I physically there to follow Him on the dusty roads of Palestine and hear his teachings firsthand? Again, no. Was I physically there to see him nailed to a cross for my sins? Yet again, no. Was I physically there to see Him rise from the grave and conquer death on my behalf? Once again, the answer is no.
But was I there spiritually? Here, the answer is absolutely and definitively “Yes!” Was I there as He came into this world? Yes. And I celebrate this fact each and every Christmas. Was I there to see Him inspire me by His Divine teaching? Yes! And I celebrate this fact each and every Sunday as I worship Him and study His Word! Was I there to witness His brutal execution on a Roman cross? Yes! And I celebrate this, not only each and every Easter, but each and every time I see a portrait that my Grandfather (yes, himself a Baptist Preacher) cherished and passed on to me of the sorrowful uplifted head of Jesus with a crown of thorns pressed deeply into His anguished brow!
And thus, I well identify with the Apostle Paul, who told the Galatian believers (in chapter 2, verse 20): “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Seven times, here, Paul personally acknowledges his debt to God the Son Jesus Christ. Each time he does, I find that I personally relate. And in all of this, I know that I am not alone. What about you? Were you there as well?
In the words of the old African-American spiritual, “Were You there? Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” If so, then you surely understand what I mean when I say that “Sometimes, it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble”!
BELLAH’S CIVIL RELIGION ARTICLE:
GETTYSBURG ADDRESS ARTICLE: