I am going to a city
Where the streets with gold are laid,
Where the tree of life is blooming
And the roses never fade.
Here they bloom but for a season,
Soon their beauty is decayed;
I am going to a city
Where the roses never fade.
Nearly four decades later, in 1980, Hollywood underscored these words in a particularly poignant scene in the movie titled Coal Miner’s Daughter.
Sissy Spacek won an Oscar for her portrayal of legendary country music star Loretta Lynn in this acclaimed biographical music film. Spacek worked hard to learn Appalachian dialect and even sang all Lynn’s songs herself on film. Indeed, the soundtrack itself reached the top 40 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200; selling over 500,000 copies and being certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
Supported by such talented actors as Tommy Lee Jones, Beverly D'Angelo, and Levon Helm, and with cameo appearances by Ernest Tubb, Roy Acuff, and Minnie Pearl, Spacek’s performance was a tour de force, and obviously the masterpiece of her career.
As the scene unfolds, Spacek (as Loretta) and Jones (as her husband Doolittle) have come home to the little Kentucky coal-mining community of Van Lear for the funeral of her father, who has died unexpectedly. They are alone together at the grave when the irascible Doolittle asked his wife: “Loretta, this ol' mountain top is gonna be covered in wildflowers in six weeks' time, what the heck are you doing bringing plastic ones up here?”
Exasperated, Loretta responds amidst her tears by saying “Because they don't die! The real ones just die! Like everything else!” In that one heartbreaking moment, overcome with anguish, her lament captures the essence of universal human emotion regarding death.
Like you, I can relate to her grief. This very week, the man who chaired the Pastor Search Team that was used of God in my call to my present pastorate some twenty years ago passed away. His passing has been hard on me. Over the last couple of decades, I came to know and to love that man as an older brother in Christ.
Sadly, he is the fourth of five members of that same Search Team who are now deceased. All of them were special; but he held a unique place in my heart. I can only imagine how his grieving wife and sons feel at this moment as they confront the terrible void now created in their lives.
To make matters worse, my father-in-law has lost not one, but two of his earthly brothers this very week as well. Of an original eleven siblings, he and one other brother are all that remain. The two of them have experienced terrible grief together this week, as their hearts and minds have again known the loss of two souls so dear to them. Burying one loved one is hard enough; but burying two in one week is extremely hard to bear.
And as if all this were not bad enough, even as I pen this blog post, I have just received that a church member has now lost her precious step-mother. Her heart is heavy as she absorbs the impact of this unexpected blow.
As a Pastor, my heart goes out to all these individuals. I pray for them as they undergo the awful process of grief. In times like these, therefore, I am especially thankful for the hope that we have in Christ Jesus, Who (in the New Testament Gospel of John, chapter 11, verses 25 and 26) once said: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies. And therefore, everyone who lives and believes in Me ultimately will never die.”
Because of Him and His redemptive work in our lives, our grief is tempered by the knowledge these loved ones we have now lost are all in Heaven. And in that place, they have now found a new sort of life – one that is eternal and abundant beyond our imagination!
As the apostle Paul himself puts it in his Second New Testament Letter to the Corinthians (chapter 2, verse 9): “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.”
The Apostle John was given a vision of this magnificent place called Heaven in the closing chapters of the New Testament Book of Revelation. After having witnessed its wonders, which are replete with echoes of the Garden of Eden, John is told personally by Jesus Christ that He is now preparing to come and take all who believe in Him to be with Him there forever.
In light of this, and on behalf of all who have ever lost a loved one (or ones), I join with the Apostle John and pray: “Amen, come quickly, Lord Jesus!”
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