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Friend Goodnight

John 15:9-17

The Rev. Jon Roberts

20 March

2012

Grace Episcopal Church

Monroe, LA

9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. 12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants,[a] for the servant[b] does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 This I command you, to love one another.

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Miniature from the Rabbula Gospels, 6th C., Mesopotamia

Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar drawing nigh,
Falls the night.

Of all the military bugle calls, none is so easily recognized, nor more apt to render emotion than the one known as, “Taps.” These are the original lyrics. [1]

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.

It is unique to the US military, sounded at funerals, wreath-laying and memorial services. It is about the last light to be extinguished, as one passes on from this world to the next.

Then goodnight, peaceful night;
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright.
God is near, do not fear,
Friend, goodnight.

Everyone has had to bid goodnight to a friend. Our emotion of sadness is rendered, not because they leave us, but because we wonder if we’ll ever see them again.

In the year 1862, Daniel Butterfield, Brigadier General of the 5th Corp. Union Army of the Potomac, was at Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. After seven days of heavy fighting in the Bull Run Campaign, the 5th Corp was badly hurt, losing over six hundred soldiers to General Robert E. Lee’s Northern Virginia, Confederate Army. It was here that Butterfield revised the bugle call for extinguishing the light at day’s end; To resemble a solemn bidding, of one saying goodnight, to fallen comrades. [2]

The tune is forever immortalized in the heralds of our history but everyone will eventually bid goodnight to a loved one from yesterday’s past. With this tune, and with these lyrics, our emotion of sadness will transcend to another place; a place that moves the soul from this world to the next. Three notes and a catch. Three notes and a catch. The last note catches our thoughts of heaven.

There must have been similar notes heard by the apostles as they were taken up to Bethany by our Lord Jesus, who by his hands, laid them on each, blessing them, bidding his goodbye. [3] Although they felt badly wounded, what was needed was the right call to lift their spirits. It was here that they witnessed the blessing of God. The blessing was not in how He left them, but rather the promise given. They knew they would see Him again. Caught up in the mystery of faith they were met by nothing less than perfect joy. Christ has died, Christ has risen, and yes, here, Christ has promised to rise again. The ascension into heaven is a temporary goodnight, until the Son-light returns another day. How can one truly capture with words, or memorialize, the moment Jesus Christ ascended into heaven? What assurances did He give them? And what assurances resonate with us today?

Fading light dims the sight
And a star gems the sky, gleaming bright
From afar drawing nigh,
Falls the night.

Day is done, gone the sun
From the lakes, from the hills, from the sky
All is well, safely rest;
God is nigh.

Then goodnight, peaceful night;
Till the light of the dawn shineth bright.
God is near, do not fear,
Friend, goodnight.

[1] Horace Lorenzo Trim
[2] Article by Jari Villanueva, http://www.west-point.org/taps/Taps.html.
[3] John 15:9-17

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