Joining the chorus

A mother remembered for her love of God, family and music.

JACK HARNISH
Retired Pastor, Detroit Conference

It is really my twin brother’s story to tell. Jim was the pastor of Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida for 23 years.

As in every Christian church around the world, Easter is the day of days and along with many other Christian churches on that day, the tradition was to end to service with Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from “Messiah”.  After the sermon, the choir director invited anyone in the audience who might like to join the choir in singing to come forward. Dozens of people of all ages made their way to the chancel to swell the ranks of the choir in preparation for the singing of this great anthem of Easter praise.

Jim says he was shaken to tears when out of the corner of his eye he saw our 90-year-old mother making her way down the aisle on the arm of his somewhat self-conscious Roman Catholic son-in-law. This wasn’t necessarily Andy’s idea of a good time, but when Grandma asked, he quickly responded and walked her down to the front of the church. So there they were—Mom leaning on her walker, Andy standing with the basses, and Preacher Jim with tear-filled eyes and over-flowing heart, all singing out “…King of Kings, forever and ever. Hallelujah. Hallelujah!”

After the service, Jim told Mom how surprised he was to see her coming down the aisle and she said, “Well, at my age, I might not have many more chances to sing it and I didn’t want to miss it.” Andy said, “Hey, whatever Grandma wants…”

As it turns out, that Easter was her last chance to sing it. For the remaining years of her life she was pretty much confined to a nursing home and her singing voice was pretty well gone. But I can remember when singing was central to my Mother’s life and faith. I can remember her sitting down at our old upright piano while we waited for Dad to come home for dinner, plunking out the tunes to familiar hymns. I can still hear her singing “His eye is on the sparrow and I know he watches me” and “I’ve got a mansion just over the hilltop, in that bright land where we will never more roam”.

When people ask where my commitment to social justice and inclusivity came from I remember Mom teaching us to sing “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world.” At night she would sing us to sleep with “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam to shine for him each day” and whenever the choir would sing the “Hallelujah Chorus” she’d be there. From her own early days around her mother’s piano bench she learned to sing “What a friend we have in Jesus” and “I love to tell the story.” If I try to go back and discover the earliest seeds of my own faith and calling into the ministry, it would lead all the way back to that piano bench in our living room on Grand Avenue and my mother singing the songs of faith.

Well, as I said, that Easter at Hyde Park was the last time Mom joined in singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” in church. In December we bid her farewell with the sure hope that this Easter she will sing it again in a heavenly choir, singing in full voice once again, singing with all the saints in glory, “…and He shall reign forever and ever, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah”.

Joyous Easter, Mom, and may your song never end,

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