Growing up during the time that I did, if you were a church-going person, you learned the words to lots of hymns – at least “the first, second and final stanza” words. One of those hymns for me was “Blessed Assurance”. The first stanza goes like this:
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
Fanny Crosby composed those words, and growing up it seemed to me that she wrote more songs than the rest of the people in the hymnbook combined. There is a kind of comforting pull to hymn tunes and their words, especially when you grew up hearing them every Sunday.
“Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!” is one of my favorite phrases not only from “Blessed Assurance”, but lots of other hymns for that matter. It seems to suggest that somehow, some way, God provides for us these little moments of opportunities that even though we may still “see but a poor reflection as in a mirror,” that poor reflection reminds us of that day when “we shall see face to face.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Fast forward from my childhood days in a simple country church to the present, and when I hear “Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!” I think of N.T. Wright’s wonderful phrase suggesting that there are times when “heaven overlaps earth.” One of these days I would love to teach a theology elective exploring that phrase and its implications. After all, it is what Jesus Himself told us to pray for: “your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
On Wednesday morning Point University held its annual Convocation, marking the beginning of a new academic year. We met in the Sportsplex, a part of the Valley, Alabama Community Center. Last night our campus life ministers and others set up the gymnasium area with a stage and 850 chairs. We’ve never set up that many chairs for convocation before.
It wasn’t enough. From the stage where I was seated, there were clearly more people standing around the back and sides of the audience than there were empty chairs. I have to tell you it is an amazing thing to sit on the stage at a convocation for Point University and see this sea of humanity – mostly young students who have come to Point for an education at a school whose mission is “to educate students for Christ-centered service and leadership throughout the world”.
And to get even more amazing, the audience was filled with people from a wide array of places in life. As President Collins said in his message, whoever wrote those words “red and yellow black and white, they are precious in his sight” must have been thinking about Point University. It was such a perfect image to reflect our spiritual formation theme for this year: Many parts . . . One Body.
Some of my personal Bible reading over the past few weeks has included Revelation. I thought about some of that reading this morning as I looked out from the platform at convocation and saw the amazing gathering of God’s people in this community called Point University. Twice – once in Revelation 5:9 and again in 7:9 – John uses the phrase “every nation, tribe, people and tongue” to describe the “great multitude that no one could count” gathered before God. I know that vision is about the future – about the glorious reappearing of Jesus to complete God’s mission of renewing and restoring creation to its God-intended purpose.
But this morning, I couldn’t help but think “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!” And had Tom Wright been present, I believe he might have said, “This looks a bit like heaven overlapping earth.”
Vice President for Spiritual Formation and Dean of the Chapel