Mrs. Van was early as usual. She walked slowly toward an old building. It was old, but the green grass on the sloping lawn all around seemed to garb it with dignity. It stood a little apart from the house around it and the whiteness of its pillars and the color and design of its windows seemed to shout that this was not merely another building, but that this was a church. Its brick walls, standing so stern and erect, seemed to break forth into speech and the heavy brown doors seemed to be eager to tell of the hopes and despondencies, of the pleasures and pains of those to whose touch they had opened.
Mrs. Van entered and when inside it seemed to her as if each one of those straight-backed seats had a story all its own to tell. She sat down in her customary place and waited for the service to begin. And as she waited she thought of the various things that were taking place in the individual lives of those who would soon occupy these empty seats.
Her thoughts went back to that scene at the depot where family and friends had gathered to say their final farewells to one of their number — a young man who was leaving for service. Everyone just stood around and no one seemed to have much to say until the train was about to leave and the young man once more shook the hands of those he was leaving behind. Then there seemed to be so many things they still had to say to each other — but couldn’t! Many good wishes were choked back and remained unspoken. The young man waved to them as he stood on the steps of the train and then found a seat where he could watch them through the window. The train began to move. He tried to smile as he took one last look into their clouded faces — those faces that tried so hard to appear cheerful! A minute later he was lost from sight to his family and friends who nevertheless remained watching until the last of the rumbling train had disappeared.
And as Mrs. Van sat in church, waiting so quietly, it seemed to her that the faint rumbling of the distant train and the sweet tones of the church organ merged together, until the rumbling died out and the strains of music became clearer. And suddenly the whole church seemed filled with the soft music of the Lohengrin Wedding March poured out by the organ. With her mind’s eye she could still see the minister with his Bible in his hands, standing before the platform against a setting of palms. The bridegroom stood near him, watching his bride come slowly and gracefully down the long aisle toward him. And as the young man and the young woman stood side by side, the minister read, “what, therefore, God hath joined together let not man put asunder,” and pronounced them man and wife. And then the guests had gathered around with congratulations and kisses for the young couple who were about to begin life’s journey together!
But, ah! How well Mrs. Van remembered, that while many were gathered here at this occasion of happiness, another family was in the thrall of overwhelming grief. A father and mother were standing at the bedside of their child who only a few weeks before had been playing happily with his toys. Just a short time ago he had asked Daddy to read him a story and now lie lay quiet and disinterested and without any signs of recognition for the anxious, watchful parents. The room was hushed and dim, seemed covered with the deep silence of sorrow. The mother who had cared for him and loved him and who had tucked him into his little bed night after night, now refused to take her eyes off the face of the dying child. Every breath he took they counted to be the last and, yet, they always watched for him to breathe once more. He breathed and gasped — and breathed his last. It was the end. The father leaned over to close those big blue eyes which would never see again. And many a tear was shed over the lifeless little form of the child who had been carried away to the land that knows no sorrow and where no tears are ever shed.
Mrs. Van wiped away a tear that had gathered in her own eye at these sad recollections, but her heart repeated the words of the old familiar hymn, “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven cannot heal.”
It was time for the service to begin. Most of the seats were taken. Old and young were gathered together to worship: elderly men and women with stooped shoulders and gray heads; and little children with eager, happy faces. The families were there of the boys who had left for service. There was the young couple who had just been married and there were the parents who had so recently buried their child. And all those stories of their individual lives seemed to blend together into one perfect whole. All together they stood up and opened their mouths and raised their voices to sing: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!” It was the beautiful harmony of the voice of the Church!
*Taken from the March 1943 Issue