God Be With You

Guest post from Caleb Hawkins

"God Be With You."

Last week was my grandmother’s 81st birthday. She’s lived a long life of joy, sorrow, tragedy, and triumph. Since her early 30's, severe arthritis has slowly but surely ravaged her body, particularly her hands which now seem shriveled. Through all these years, especially the ones I have spent with her, one thing has been constant along with the pain. In her own words, “I always keep Jesus on my mind, and a song in my heart.”

Ever since I was a little boy, I cannot think of a time when her voice wasn’t in the background humming a song or in the living room teaching a hymn. Music, sounds of praise and worship overflow out of her spirit and into the world. For a long time the music was accompanied by her harp, which her husband, my grandfather, bought for her after losing their first child at the age of six due to years of health struggles.

During that time of grieving, words were too hard to sing, so the sounds of the harp nursed her back to joy, eventually drawing the lyrics back into her heart and out of her mouth again. Strumming the instrument is almost unbearable with the severity of arthritis in her hands these days, but once in a while the Spirit will give her just enough strength to wade off into an old hymn.

Almost every time we speak, and this past week was no exception, we always share and sing a hymn together. I am no longer a little boy sitting on her carpet listening. I am her brother joining in the songs that the old saint has sung for decades. There was a time when, as a teenager, her voice frustrated me. It was a song, a joy, I did not possess. But, in the last few years, I walked into the field and found the treasure she had. From then on, I had “Jesus on my mind, and a song in my heart.” Now we rejoice together in God’s song of salvation sung over us (Zeph. 3:17).

Knowing this would be the first time in my life that I would not be able to physically celebrate her birthday together with her, I called a few times throughout last week, reminiscing about distant memories of past birthdays. Under these current circumstances a familiar hymn came to mind which we've sung many times together: “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.”

Jeremiah Rankin, the author of the hymn, wrote the lyrics in 1880 based on the etymology of “goodbye” which is shorthand for “God be with you.” The song was meant to be a departing note towards those we may see again this afternoon or those we may not see again till heaven.

The words are a blessing, a benediction, towards God’s people that though separated for now, they are not alone. Pluralities of truth such as God’s protection, guidance, supply, and love are sufficient even when we are scattered. The hope of the song’s refrain is the final destination of Jesus’ feet where we will fully enjoy all these blessings together with no need for “goodbye” again.

Those are the words my grandmother sings to me and I to her. One day I will sing my last hymn with her on this earth. A final “God be with you” will occur, yet she and Jesus will be ready when I sing my last hymn here too. What a peace to know goodbye’s are not forever, and will one day be a thing of the past.

On Sunday, my pastor ended his digital sermon with the line “God be with you” which brought a smile to my face remembering the hymn I’d recently meditated on. All of us need that verse, and all of us need the Lord’s company. Sing along with my grandmother and me, as we wait on sweet fellowship to return. God be with you till we meet again church family.

Here are the lyrics along with a rendition of the hymn I’ve enjoyed on Youtube:
"God Be With You Till We Meet Again"

God be with you till we meet again,  
By His counsels guide, uphold you,  
With His sheep securely fold you,  
God be with you till we meet again.  
Till we meet, till we meet,  
Till we meet at Jesus’ feet;
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.
God be with you till we meet again,
’Neath His wings securely hide you,
Daily manna still provide you,
God be with you till we meet again.
God be with you till we meet again,
When life’s perils thick confound you,
Put His arms unfailing round you,
God be with you till we meet again.
God be with you till we meet again,
Keep love’s banner floating o’er you,
Smite death’s threat’ning wave before you,
God be with you till we meet again.

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