For Whose Mothers Are in Heaven
May 14th, 1967 @ 10:50 AM
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-14-67 10:15 a.m.
I do not know why I do this. The experience is lived through every syllable, every moment. I suppose it is a part of the experience of the Christian life and of the Christian hope, and if I love the Lord, this is a part of that devotion.
About a week after last Mother’s Day, my mother died. I have not spoken of it, and after this service, I shall not speak of it again. But I announced and have said it several times that at this Mother’s Day hour, I was going to recount that experience.
It all began when I was pastor in Muskogee, Oklahoma, before coming to the pastorate of this church in Dallas. I received a letter from my mother, and she said, "Your father is too old to work any longer, and we have put up our home for sale, and we are going to move in retirement to California."
I received that letter on Saturday. The next day, Sunday, at a Sunday school departmental meeting, one of the Wycliffe missionaries – and there were three hundred that were attending our church; they belonged to the Summer School of Linguistics. Every summer they meet on the campus of the University of Oklahoma, but the United States Navy, and this was during the war, had pre-empted the campus of the university, and the Summer School of Linguistics had moved to Bacone College, an Indian college in Muskogee, and they were attending our church.
That morning, in one of those Sunday school departmental assemblies, a Wycliffe missionary drew a picture in chalk. I have seen it since, but I had never seen it drawn before. To the left of the picture was an old home, and then in the yard in front, there was a sign, "For Sale." Then the road that followed by the side of the house went over the brow of the hill, and there at the brow of the hill stood an old man and an old woman, and beyond the beautiful city of God.
And as the artist drew that picture, for the first time I heard – I’ve heard it many times since, but the first time I heard somebody, one of the Wycliffe missionaries, sing this song while the picture was being drawn:
Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Tho’ stretched from sky to sky.
Oh love of God, how rich and pure,
How measureless and strong.
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.
["The Love of God," F.M. Lehman]
And having received that letter the day before, and looking at that picture, and listening to that song, I don’t think I ever cried more profusely in my life; and beyond the beautiful city of God with its palaces, and its spires, and its domes.
Well, in a little while after that, my father died in California. I had been a pastor for twenty years. When he died, I was then pastor here. I could not tell you the number of funeral services I had held. I began this ministry when I was seventeen years of age, and for the years of over twenty I had held innumerable funeral services. But when I went to the funeral of my father, and my mother leaning on my arm, it was as though I had never been at a funeral service before.
It was so different, it was so strange. It was as new to me, as unfamiliar to me, as though it was the first service I had ever attended in my life. I cannot understand that. As long as sorrow and tears and death are in other homes and in other families, we can somehow sympathize or understand, but when it comes to your home and your family, it is in a different world.
Then as the days passed, my mother was stricken, and for seven years, lacking a little while, for seven years, she lay stricken. I cannot describe the heartache of just looking at someone whom you love, nothing you can do to help. The days become months, and the months become years, and they lie there, or are seated there, stricken. The sorrow of being unable to help; nothing the doctor can do, nothing a kind nurse can do, nothing friends can do; it is indescribable, and our people live through that all the time. There are many here this morning, there are many who listen on radio and television, who live in that sad, sad world. Oh, the heartache and the pain is indescribable! When I would go see my mother and look upon her like that, it took me weeks and weeks to lift up my spirit.
Then upon a day, she just fell asleep in the Lord, and when that day came, oh, the kindness and the sympathy of our people! I received so many telegrams, I received so many letters. It is a hard, harsh world seemingly on the outside, but underneath there is a kindness and a sympathy of people that is as high as heaven above, as deep as life itself.
The first telegram I received was from a church, addressed to me, and it said: "Our beloved church rejoices in the coronation of your beloved and sainted mother. May the Lord bless you."
And, out of a multitude of letters that came:
Every memory of your mother,
Thoughts of her that mean so much,
These are things you will always treasure,
Things that time can never touch.
And may it be some comfort now
For you to know as well
That others care and sympathize
Far more than words can tell.
It helps a little sometimes,
Though your loss is hard to bear,
To know that you have many friends
Who understand and care,
So may you find some comfort
In the thoughts that others too,
Know how deep your grief must be
And sympathize with you.
The kindness of the people was another new experience to me. I live in a world of death, funerals. It is a strange thing, for example: flowers that people bring, so many thoughts of remembrance and rejoicing. Flowers – I look at them, they are funerals to me. I can smell a flower and all the feeling of the funeral service comes back over me.
I live in a world like that; I am constantly praying with somebody, talking with somebody, encouraging somebody, visiting somebody, trying to help through a hard time. But to be helped, to be sympathized with, to be remembered was a new experience to me, and how infinitely precious. Ah, take time for somebody else; do it. Oh, we are busy, I know, but it is a colossal weakness on our part that we do not remember and take time. Do it, do it.
When I went to the service, the memorial service in Forest Lawn in the San Fernando Valley in California, it was held in a little chapel, a little church called the Wee Kirk o’ the Heather, coming out of the life of Scotland where Annie Laurie worshiped two hundred fifty years ago. I was surprised at all that I saw. I was surprised at the number of floral gifts; I had not expected it. I was surprised at the attendance at the service; I had not expected it. One of our fine deacons and his son-in-law had made the trip to California to be there at that memorial hour.
I just looked around. They were humble people, my father and mother. They were unknown. They lived a very sheltered and unpretentious life, very much so. And all of that surprised me.
And the memorial service itself; the pastor of my brother, a Baptist minister in the American Baptist Convention, held the service, and he read the Scripture that I suppose more tears have fallen upon it than any other leaf in the Bible:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in Me.
In My Father’s house are many mansions,
There, that beautiful city again, with its palaces and its spires and its domes:
In My Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
And he read also the ninetieth Psalm, the prayer of Moses, the man of God. Someone asked, "Why is that psalm so sad?"
We spend our years as a tale that is told.
The days of our years are threescore and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.
[Psalm 90:9, 10]
Why is that psalm so sad? And the answer is so very obvious: for forty years Moses looked upon three hundred funeral processions a day.
Then his text was Psalm 116:15, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." And he had three points to his sermon. The first point, precious in the sight of the Lord is the life of His saints. Then he spoke of what God’s devoted children mean to us in this earth. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the life of His saints.
Then his second point: "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." God looks upon the place and remembers. If there is no sparrow that falls to the ground but that God saw it fall [Matthew 10:29], how much more does God look upon our beloved who fall asleep in Jesus. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints" [Psalm 116:15].
Then he had a third point that surprised me. His third point was, precious in the sight of the Lord are the lives of trust and devotion and courage of the children of the saints. And he exhorted us who remain behind to be faithful and true to the heritage that we receive from our Christian parents.
And in that encouragement to us, to follow after the devotion and the Christian commitment of our Christian fathers and mothers, He closed with this hymn:
The sands have been washed in the footprints
Of the Stranger on Galilee’s shore.
And the voice that subdued the rough billows
Will be heard in Judea no more.
But the path of that lone Galilean
With joy I will follow today,
And the toils of the road will seem nothing
When we get to the end of the way.
There are so many hills to climb upward
I often am longing for rest,
But He who appoints me my pathway
Knows just what is needful and best.
I know in His Word He hath promised
That my strength, it shall be as my day,
And the toils of the road will seem nothing
When we get to the end of the way.
When the last feeble steps have been taken
And the gates of that city appear
And the beautiful songs of the angels
Float out on my listening ear,
When all that now seems so mysterious
Will be bright and clear as the day,
Then the toils of the road will seem nothing
When we get to the end of the way.
["When I Get to the End of the Way," Charles Tillman]
And with that encouragement to us, to follow after, true to the heritage of our Christian parents, the service closed, and in beautiful Forest Lawn, on the hillside where my father is buried, there they buried her. And the commitment he read, "Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: the one that believeth in Me, though that one were dead, yet shall that one live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in Me shall never die" [John 11:25-26].
He put a flower on the casket lowered into the grave, and my deacon led the benediction. This closes the book. This is the final breaking up of the home in which I grew up. There is nothing this side, naught in that home. Now it is a faith and a promise of an unbroken rendezvous, the gathering of God, redeemed in heaven.
As you know, you who have been to the beautiful Forest Lawn Cemetery in California, as you know, on the grounds of the incomparably beautiful cemetery, there is a very, very large and spacious building. And in that building is the largest framed painting in the world. It is a picture of the crucifixion. It is 195 feet long, two-thirds of a city block long, and it is 45 feet high, and depicts in glorious detail and in minute accuracy the crucifixion of our Lord.
Then they have added another tremendous picture. I had seen the crucifixion before, but they have added another picture equally as impressive and vast. It is a picture of the resurrection and is unlike any other picture I had ever seen in my life.
We went from the graveside there and looked at the picture of the crucifixion and death, at this painting of the resurrection. Below and to the left is an open and an empty tomb. "O Death, where now is thy sting? O Grave, where now is thy victory?" [1 Corinthians 15:55]. An empty, open tomb.
Then standing on the hill, into the side of which the sepulcher was hewn, standing there is the resurrected and immortalized and glorified Lord Jesus, raised from the dead. As He stands there, He faces the years and the centuries of the ages to come, and His hands are outstretched as He looks upon the saints of all times, the children of those who have found life and forgiveness and immortality in Him, and then once again, the spires and the turrets and the domes and the palaces of the city of God.
And as the service in that beautiful chapel closes, it is closed with the song of Handel’s Messiah, raised from the dead, triumphant over sin and the grave, to "reign forever and ever, hallelujah, hallelujah!"
So we who cry, to be filled with an indescribable sadness in the breaking up of the circle of the home, is a part of our human weakness. But to believe, and to trust, and to lift up our faces to the glorious triumph that God has promised us in Christ Jesus is the Christian faith, that’s what it is.
To find in life nothing but night and dark and unbelief and despair is to be an infidel, it’s to be an atheist, it’s to be a secularist, it’s to be a materialist, but to find in life the glory of the promise that is yet to come, that reaches over and beyond the years of our pilgrimage and finds its ultimate consummation in glory in the presence of God, this is what it is to be a Christian. If we die with Him we shall live with Him [2 Timothy 2:11]. If we suffer with Him, we shall reign with Him [2 Timothy 2:12]. Whether we live or whether we die, we are with Him [Romans 14:8]. This is the Christian faith.
So on this Mother’s Day, a tribute for us whose mothers are in heaven; for us, words of love and praise and thanksgiving and memory. God bless and forever to us every prayer they prayed, every tear they shed, every sacrifice they made.
She always leaned to watch for us,
Anxious if we were late.
In winter by the window,
In the summer by the gate.
And though we mocked her tenderly
Who had such foolish care,
The long way home would seem more safe
Because she waited there.
Her thoughts were also full of us,
She never could forget,
And so I think that where she is,
She must be waiting yet.
Waiting ’til we come home to her,
Anxious if we are late.
Watching from heaven’s window,
Leaning from heaven’s gate.
["The Watcher," Margaret Widdemer]
Do you believe that we shall ever see our fathers and our mothers who have died in Jesus? Do you believe we shall ever see them again? Do you believe Christ is able to give us back these who we’ve loved and lost for a while? Do you believe in the resurrection from the dead? Do you believe in heaven? Do you believe that someday we shall see God and live? Do you believe that someday we shall see Jesus? Do you? If you do, that is what it is to be a Christian.
This I say, my brethren, flesh and blood do not inherit the kingdom of God;,
But I show you a mystery; We may not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed.
For this mortal must put on immortality, and this corruptible must put on incorruption.
When this mortal shall have put on immortality, and this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?
Thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know your labor is not in vain, your hopes are not in vain, your faith is not in vain in the Lord.
[1 Corinthians 15:50-58]
"And the toils of the road will seem nothing when we get to the end of the way."
Our hymn of appeal is "In the Sweet By and By":
There’s a land that is fairer than day.
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way
To prepare us a dwelling place there.
["In the Sweet By and By," Sanford F. Bennett]
"In the Sweet By and By," and while we sing this hymn of appeal, a family you, to give yourself to Jesus, would you come? A family you, to put your life in the fellowship of our dear church, would you come? On this Mother’s Day, would you come? A couple you; one somebody you; a child, a youth, while we sing this hymn of sweetest Christian faith and devotion, would you come and stand by me? "Pastor, I give you my hand, I give my heart to God." Or, "We’re coming into the fellowship of the church," as the Spirit shall lead the way, come now, make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.