Encouragement on June 16, 2022
Did y’all know that in the Cokesbury hymnal the Sue Knight Sunday School class has taped into the back “Because He Lives?” I discovered it as I was planning the Celebration of Life for George Joly. He had pointed it out to his wife Carol as a song he wanted to be played at his funeral. “Because He Lives” is a favorite hymn of mine. It’s not just a favorite of mine. UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young says that this song “is one of the five most requested… to be included in this hymnal.” It basically tells the Easter story while referencing John 14. Jesus in the midst of promising the Holy Spirit, says these critical words. “Because I live, you also will live. We cling to that resurrection promise and we live in that resurrection hope! When Matt Maher released his song “Because He Lives, Amen,” I told the story of the hymn on Easter Sunday in 2015 and I got the Gator Wesley students to paint the 13th street wall in Gainesville, FL “Because He Lives” that Easter Sunday afternoon. We are called to share the Good News of the empty tomb! We are called to share that hope, even on days of uncertainty, because He lives.
Bill and Gloria Gaither, the authors of the hymn were also facing circumstances out of their control. Gloria recalls, “We had written a lot of songs, but we were just at a dry spell. Bill’s sister was going through a divorce, and we’d never had divorce in either of our families. It was very painful because she was in trouble and in a situation that was quite volatile and could have been dangerous. Bill got mononucleosis at that same time and became physically weak. There were circumstances in our life we couldn’t control. There we were so happy, yet we had this contradiction of things that we couldn’t fix. There was the paradox of writing about peace and joy and contentment in the face of this, asking, ‘How does all this work?’”
Swirling around them was the unrest of a generation in the midst of war. It was 1969. Gloria explains, “Our whole life and the external world were all in flux and in chaos: the Civil Rights movement was going on, Watts had just burned to the ground, and the whole country split apart over the Vietnam War. We’d just found out we were having our third baby and thought, ‘Who would bring another baby into this world?’ We were disturbed by the whole thing.
“But a wonderful friend, Sid Guillen, came over one night,” Gloria continues. “‘This is an imposition of Satan – this is not just circumstantial,’ he said. ‘I’m going to lay hands on you and pray for you.’ He just had that simple faith, and something in the Spirit broke after that. Nothing we could see changed at that moment, but we did feel again that God was in control. And when our little son Benjy was born [July 19, 1970], we actually felt incredibly confident.
“It dawned on us that the Resurrection is a true thing. It’s true in every situation. It’s true in the world to come. God’s got a plan. Resurrection is a fact of life and I think it was built into the earth as a metaphor for Christ in the very beginning of Creation. It’s the principle that life wins. If we put our trust in Him, we are victors. What if the world blows up tomorrow? Our destiny and our life and our future do not depend on circumstances. This song has that sense.”
How sweet to hold a newborn baby,
And feel the pride and joy he gives.
But greater still the calm assurance,
This child can face uncertain days because He lives.
Gloria wrote the verses just to make the song complete and provide perspective, although they weren’t necessarily connected to anything she was experiencing at the time. But when her father died suddenly, the song’s third verse came alive for her. At a concert that evening, Bill’s brother Danny, the third member of the trio, began to sing:
And then one day I’ll cross the river,
I’ll fight life’s final war with pain.
And then as death gives way to victory,
I’ll see the lights of glory and I’ll know He lives.
“It was as though I had never heard it before,” Gloria shares. “The truth of Resurrection poured in and I could hear my father saying, ‘To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.’ That’s how personal that song is.”
Today, “Because He Lives” has become a very personal song – of God making a way, a song of perseverance and provision, an anthem when we feel embattled. Of all the hundreds of songs written by the Gaithers, it’s the only one that has been translated into every language. My mom shared with me today that it was my Baptismal hymn at Pleasant Grove in Cheraw, SC. We need this message now more than ever. We need to share this message now more than ever. The love. The hope. Because He Lives.