The funeral was to be held in my oldest sister's 19th-century Episcopal church, and this sister invited me to choose the hymns for the service. It was a little embarrassing. The only tune I remembered well from a childhood of mandatory church attendance was "Lead on, O King Eternal" (Ernest Shurtleff, 1887):
Lead on, O King eternal,
the day of march has come;
henceforth in fields of conquest
your tents will be our home.
Through days of preparation
your grace has made us strong;
and now, O King eternal,
we lift our battle song.
Lead on, O King eternal,
till sin's fierce war shall cease,
and holiness shall whisper
the sweet amen of peace.
For not with swords' loud clashing
or roll of stirring drums
with deeds of love and mercy
the heavenly kingdom comes.
Lead on, O King eternal;
we follow, not with fears,
for gladness breaks like morning
where'er your face appears.
Your cross is lifted o'er us,
we journey in its light;
the crown awaits the conquest;
lead on, O God of might.
My sister very kindly inserted this hymn in the service and never said a word about the choice to me.
Later, when my desperate search for truth had led me into the Christian camp forevermore, I was embarrassed by my choice of hymn. It became clear that songs like "It Is Not Death To Die" and "Shall We Gather by the River" would have been more appropriate for a funeral. "Lead on, O King Eternal" was a little too militant for such an occasion, wasn't it? Of all the hymns we'd sung over and over and over again in the first 17 years of my life, why in the world had the Lord brought this one to mind in those sorrow-filled days following my mom's death?
But then, driving home from church a couple Sundays ago, it struck me.
We had just wrapped up another Bible study class on the subject of spiritual warfare. Feeling pretty militant in light of that teaching, I began belting out "Lead on, O King Eternal" over the radio voice of J. Vernon McGee, my favorite old-time preacher.
And then it occurred to me: When I whispered "I'll see you there" in my mother's ear, the Lord knew what would happen next: that I would soon defect from Satan's kingdom and instead become one of His soldiers in today's great spiritual war. He took it from there, slowly dressing me in the whole armor of God -- girding my waist in truth, shoeing my feet with the gospel of peace, strapping on the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation, and equipping me with the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6).
But it seems that His very first act of preparing me for the coming war was to arm me with a memorable theme song, in the form of this most battle-worthy old hymn.