On Jordan’s Stormy Banks

St. Boniface Kirk, Papa Westray, Scotland. Photo by Douglas Hourston

St. Boniface Kirk, Papa Westray, Scotland. Photo by Douglas Hourston

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise… – Jesus words to the thief on the cross.

 

On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand
And cast a wishful eye
To Canaan’s fair and happy land
Where my possessions lie

I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promise Land…

Death has been a close companion to me in the last 6 months. My dad died in October. He would have been 84 in December and I’d love to tell you that he lived a long and healthy life but that would be lying. Long yes, healthy no. My dad’s youth had been a difficult one – fleeing violence and turmoil in Ukraine during WW2, being drafted into and then running away from the Hitler Jugend in Germany, then, when the war was finally over, starting a new but difficult life in South America. Dad never got over the trauma he experienced and he treated himself with years of alcohol abuse as he tried to out–pace the inner-demons that would chase him his whole life. When his end came, he was ready to go and was surrounded by his wife, his children and grandchildren – all there because we loved him. I miss him a lot.

me, dad, my sister, Benita, about a year and a half before dad died.

me, dad, my sister, Benita, about a year and a half before dad died.

Last week, 3 of my friends said goodbye to their parents. All of them elderly, all of them in ill-health, all dearly loved and missed. Even though their lives were long and full –it’s hard to say goodbye and I know that my friends are now joining me on a journey of grieving.
We heard this song at Dad’s memorial service as we watched slides of his life. Dad had a difficult relationship with the church, where he felt judged and unwelcome but he told me on many occasions that he believed that there was a God up there somewhere. On the day before he died, he told me he was ready to go and I believe he was.

No chilling wind nor poisonous breath
Can reach that healthful shore
Where sickness, sorrow, pain and death
Are felt and feared no more

I am bound, I am bound, I am bound for the Promise Land…

promised-land-road-sign-with-dramatic-clouds-and-sky

Shortly after Dad’s death, I was in a worship service and had a vision of Dad in his Lazy Boy, sitting beside Jesus, and the two of them clapping their hands and enjoying the music. Given that he lived in hell for most of his life, it gave me great joy to think of him there, free from pain and death and fear… he looked so happy.

When my son suggested we sing this song at the Good Friday Blues service, I smiled and thought “yes.” Unlike the other songs we’ll hear at these services, this one is not a story-telling song, it does not dwell on the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death but it is a song that expresses a deep longing. We are here now, on those stormy banks and looking across the river to the other side, where Jesus promised we’d see him. The fact that someone I love has crossed over that river already, makes the longing even greater… but this song gives me joy and comfort. I hope it will be so for you when you hear it too.

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