Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Strike the Tent

     Historians love to record the last words of famous individuals at the moment of their deaths.  Many times those last words carry powerful significance.  I suppose the witnesses of those words or phrases see them as a window into the heart of the person.  It is probably believed there are lessons to be learned from those experiencing the visitation of death.  I would be one of those who believes there is something to be learned from those 'famous last words'.

Some would say that words spoken, or the visions that the person is seeing during their dying moments, are just the delirium of the human body shutting down.  Maybe so. However, I would argue this point, "Why those particular words, and why those particular images?"  I would hold to the belief, as do others, that what is being spoken and seen, does give us a look into the hearts of those individuals.

The last recorded words of General Stonewall Jackson before he passed were, "Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees."  Jackson was known to be a deeply religious man.  He was also deeply flawed in his views on slavery and hatred toward the North.  Nevertheless, could it be that in his fleeing passage from life into death, the promises of the Word of God were awakened in his mind?  After two horrible years of war, and countless dead, maybe Jackson's soul was just longing for a place of peaceful rest.  A Bible verse I am sure he knew says, "There remains a rest for the people of God, for he that enters into his rest, ceases from his labors."  Hebrews 4: 9, 10

Then there are the last words of General Robert E. Lee, who was also a man of profound faith.  His passing was on Oct. 12, 1870, at age 63.  His final words are not surprisingly, a military term, "Strike the Tent."  The meaning of the phrase is a command, "to take down the tent, pack up and get ready to move.", either in order to move to a new location or make ready for battle.  It was undoubtedly a command General Lee had given to his officers many times over the course of the War.  Or, could he have been thinking of his earthly body at that moment?  It could have just as easily been his last goodbye to the earthly life he had known, to move on to the life to come.  The promises in the Bible of a Believers resurrection would have been well known to a pious man such as Lee.  Even the metaphor referring to our earthly body as a 'Tent'', is used in the Scriptures.  "For we know that if this earthly tent, which is our house, is torn down, we have a building from God, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens... we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven." 2 Corinthians 5:1, 2

I would be remiss if I did not add the last words of one more person, although he is not a Civil War personage, but his last words are a window into a heart filled with thoughts of his Savior.  His name is Stephen, the Church's first martyr. Recorded in the Book of Acts, as Stephen is about to be stoned to death for his witness for Christ, he looked up and spoke of what he was viewing.  "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.... and as they stoned Stephen, he called upon God, and said: "Lord Jesus receive my spirit.". Then, crying out with a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."  Acts 7:55-60

I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is this: ''What would be our last words?''  Would they come from a heart filled with thoughts of God?  Would our mind be consumed with the images of the rest and peace, we had so deeply longed for since childhood?  Would we be moved in those last moments to speak out words of grace and forgiveness toward others?  Hopefully, we will all be able to say,  "Yes", to those questions before we finally,  ''Strike the Tent."

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