We often sit toward the front at church. It’s a rather large church, and when we sing certain songs, the voices of the hundreds singing behind me … well, I’m unable to describe how happy the beautiful sound of the many gathered voices makes me feel.
It reminds me of heaven. I can’t wait to be in heaven. I can’t wait to hear the sound of the innumerable voices — not just hundreds, but ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands — unhindered by sin or sadness or self:
Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”
Henry Alford, who lived in the 1800s, wrote about those future days. Henry’s father was a pastor, and raised Henry on his own after Henry’s mother died. When Henry himself became a pastor, he became the sixth consecutive generation of his family to do so. He was also an artist and scholar and poet.
He wrote Ten thousand times ten thousand (one of the hymns I’m so moved by on Sunday mornings.) Do you know its beautiful words?
Ten thousand times ten thousand in sparkling raiment bright,
The armies of the ransomed saints throng up the steeps of light;
’Tis finished, all is finished, their fight with death and sin;
Fling open wide the golden gates, and let the victors in.
What rush of alleluias fills all the earth and sky!
What ringing of a thousand harps bespeaks the triumph nigh!
O day, for which creation and all its tribes were made;
O joy, for all its former woes a thousandfold repaid!
O then what raptured greetings on Canaan’s happy shore;
What knitting severed friendships up, where partings are no more!
Then eyes with joy shall sparkle, that brimmed with tears of late;
Orphans no longer fatherless, nor widows desolate.
Bring near Thy great salvation, Thou Lamb for sinners slain;
Fill up the roll of Thine elect, then take Thy power, and reign;
Appear, Desire of nations, Thine exiles long for home;
Show in the heaven Thy promised sign; Thou Prince and Savior, come.
Henry — who knew he’d one day be part of the myriads of ransomed saints who’ll throng up the steeps of light — also wrote other meaning-filled words. His own tombstone inscription, which he penned himself,
reminds us that we’re ambassadors in a foreign land. We’re traveling through, with a set end-goal in mind. We’re not to be loitering tourists; gathering, and acquiring, and twittering away our lives with the trinkets of the land in which we live (in either a figurative or a literal way). We’re travelers, on our way to the new Jerusalem, and we’re exiles, longing for home. Henry knew, as he wrote the inscription, that the grave he’d lie in would only be a temporary lodging place. For Jesus is returning.
And on that day, the day for which creation and all its tribes were made, Henry, the traveler on his way to the new Jerusalem, with all those who love Jesus’ appearing, will rise from his lodging place. His voice will join the rush of alleluias filling all the earth and sky.
And if I’m at a loss to describe the happiness the hundreds of voices in my earthly church each Sunday bring me, I’m absolutely speechless at the thought of the church universal raised to new life, with voices joined in celebration and worship of the Lamb.
Beyond belief and description, and beyond beautiful will be the sound of those myriads!