Gene Larson is a lay person and the Chairperson of the Worship Committee at First United Methodist Church in Normal, IL. I have found him to be a very capable in engaging both theology and Bible. He graduated from Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS) and found his way to the Bloomington-Normal area where we worked for State Farm. My first meeting of Gene was with his dogs. He is a dog lover and is as dedicated to his canines as they are to him!
Today I welcome Gene to my blog and invite you to read his perspective on Resurrection and New Life.
One of my re-discovered musical groups is the Statler Brothers. I have always enjoyed country music, at least the form it took 30 and more years ago. As country music changed, I moved away from it and lost touch with some of the great artists that contributed much to my enjoyment of it. The quartet that I enjoyed most had its roots in gospel music and throughout their long career always included some of it in their concerts and shows. Recently, I was searching iTunes for some new music and ran across a gospel compilation of the Statlers. One of the songs included was entirely new to me—“The Eastern Gate.”
This song is referring to a gate on the eastern side of the wall around the old city of Jerusalem. It is the gate that is closest to the Mount of Olives and it quite likely the one most frequented by Jesus on his comings and goings to the city. It is almost certainly the gate He used on Maundy Thursday to visit the mountain garden to pray after the Last Supper. It is very likely the one through which the captured Savior was returned to face the ultimate persecution, prosecution, and execution.
If you are not familiar with the gospel song, its message conveyed in several verses and repeated chorus is that Jesus will meet us “Just inside the Eastern Gate over there.” It is an up-tempo piece, at least in the Statler’s rendition of it. Other gospel artists tend to be less so. Once you hear it, if Southern Gospel music is to your liking, it is a tune and lyric that is hard to put out of your mind. As I’ve listened to it numerous times over the last few months, I’ve come to understand what its message might hold for me and, perhaps, for you. .
The Eastern Gate is a song that at first blush seems to dwell, as much of the related music also does, on our individual deaths and the condition of our souls at the time. Perhaps one of the reasons the genre’s following is limited is because so much of the music seems to dwell on this singular and personal topic. The songs we like to sing are more uplifting than the rather somber idea that ultimately we will die and whether or not we will meet the test of the Judge who sits inside the gate.
The insight for me into this song and others is that it is not just about the end of our human lives, but about the process we go through as we live each day of our lives. In twelve-step parlance, life that is lived in fear of tomorrow or haunted by the past is far less likely to make it successfully through this day, today. So my contention is that The Eastern Gate is not one to be avoided or circumvented as we go through life. Rather it is a place, a process that will lead us to answers about ourselves that will be important to understanding what we need to do to wear the mantle of a disciple.
Let’s be honest, we are less likely to look closely at what we’re doing with our lives if the only ones we’re trying to please is ourselves. If however, the person we will meet “…in the morning, over there,” is a wise counselor and friend who can help us understand what the better part might be for us to pursue. When Jesus said to Martha, “Don’t worry about Mary, she has chosen the better part,” He was telling her that life is more than being a perfect hostess, the best cook, the one with the cleanest house. He was telling her that choosing to love and care for another is more important than the clothes on our back or the possessions we take so much pride in accumulating.
The process of self-examination is not easy and most likely is not something we can pull off by ourselves. We need the independent and yet compassionate advice of someone who cares for us and wants us to succeed even more than we to do. That presence in our lives is interested not in our stuff but our souls. That helper, guide, and friend is looking out for us for our sake not for what they can get out of it. We, on the other hand, tend to look out for “…numero uno” and that is where the problems start.
When the Ottoman Turks controlled Jerusalem they sealed the gate to prevent the return of the Messiah. Jewish tradition has it that the Messiah will return to the city and restore the temple via the Eastern Gate. How like the Turks we are. We seal off the advice and counsel of those who have our best interests at heart by refusing to look at our lives from any other perspective than our own and by worrying constantly about avoiding the inevitable. There is nothing we can do about the inevitable. What will happen will happen and it is up to us to prepare the way as best we can. That may sound quite final and even judgmental, but I think it is the basis of faith. Living life for the best result today is what will do the most for us in preparing for any eventuality. My, our, ultimate salvation is by the grace of God, not the by the works of our hands, feet or money. The result of life is not what we attain or accumulate. It is what kind of memories we leave with those whose lives we have touched.
As long as there are free people anywhere on this planet or in this universe, names like Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, King, Jr. and others will never be forgotten. The memories of what they did and how they sacrificed to make the world a better place for others is the basis for immortality that cannot be refuted. Even a person who has no religious bent at all can name for you the persons in their past that has given them strength to get up each day and go on to achieve whatever they could to make the day worth living. It is without doubt the Way on which we can build a legacy that will carry us into whatever form immortality may take for us. To be sure, there are others whose presence in this world will also be remembered, because forgetting the atrocities they perpetrated is to allow them to fall into places from which those lessons from the past cannot be resurrected.
Let’s go inside “The Eastern Gate” and see what the words of this song might say to each of us.
“I will meet you in the morning. Just inside the Eastern Gate.
Then be ready, faithful pilgrim,
Lest with you it be too late.
Refrain: I will meet you, I will meet you, Just inside the Eastern Gate over there.
I will meet you, I will meet you, I will meet you in the morning over there.
If you hasten off to glory,
Linger near the Eastern Gate,
For I’m coming in the morning;
So you’ll not have long to wait. [Refrain]
Keep your lamps all trimmed and burning;
For the Bridegroom watch and wait.
He’ll be with us at the meeting. Just inside the Eastern Gate. [Refrain}
O the joys of that glad meeting
With the saints who for us wait!
What a blessèd, happy meeting
Just inside the Eastern Gate! [Refrain]”
These verses lead us from where we would take ourselves to where our God, our Higher Power wants us to be. The urgency of not putting off our faith journey is where we start. The reality of the uncertainty of this life is underscored and the request is for us to not linger, but for our helper and guide to be just inside the gate when we get there. The allusion to a parable of Jesus concerning the preparations of the wedding party for the main participants is reinforced. And, finally, the joy of our welcome to the immortality of our friends and family who shaped, led, admonished, and cheered us to victory over the world. A world that would just as soon have torn us to bits and scattered our remains so as to put whatever good we possessed in a place where our lives could be of no use to anyone else.
That is not what the God I put my trust in is going to do with my life. He waits for me to come to Him for that advice and counsel that will turn me from who I am to who I can be. And, the people who will benefit from the change wrought by God in me are those people who I fed, clothed, visited, healed, and loved in the same way I have been treated by the power that has sustained and will never forsake me. Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it. He has no need to condemn anyone, we are perfectly capable of doing that to ourselves.
The Eastern Gate beckons and calls to each of us to pass through and converse with the love that will never let us go.