The Hope of a Nation
Painted by James Haines in the 1920s
When I was a small girl, this picture, "The Hope of a Nation," hung on the wall in my grandparents' living room. I would stand before it mesmerized by mystery. Where was this place? Where was the river flowing? Where did it end? Then one day, I heard the grown-ups singing the equally (to me) mysterious final stanza of "Battle Hymn of the Republic": "In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea, With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me." Ah ha -- that was it! This was the "beauty of the lilies," the place "across the sea." Perhaps it was even the same place that we little kids sometimes sang about:
My body lies over the ocean,
my body lies over the sea;
my body lies over the ocean,
so bring back my body to me.
At the time, of course, I didn't know that the word was Bonnie; I knew nothing of British history or Scottish folksongs; but the transmigration of souls -- now there was something I could get a handle on.
Here's the picture,
hanging in my hallway,
"We had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel." This sad, beautiful, ironic sentence is one of my favorite in all the New Testament (click for an excellent sermon). It is spoken a few days after the crucifixion when two minor followers of Jesus are walking along the road to a town called Emmaus (even the sound of this place name seems so sadly poetic). They are joined by a stranger who asks them "Why so sad?" In answer, they recount the recent arrest and execution of Jesus, concluding in despair, "But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel." What they don't yet realize is that this stranger is the risen Christ.
That's how the story goes, but for me, this sentence has always seemed so appropriate to any number of our once and future leaders of whom we expected so much and who left us too soon -- King Arthur, Princess Diana, and those four American guys in the song:
"Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he's gone?
I thought I saw him walkin' up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and John."
~ written by Dick Holler
~ sung by Dion