Spiritual songs get us through
The great black mark on American history is slavery. From the beginning of our nation’s settlement until Jan. 1, 1963, Americans owned, sold and purchased other human beings. Beyond this, many slave owners were incredibly cruel to their slaves treating them with no regard of human dignity. Slaves were beaten, spit upon, given no healthcare, denigrated, ripped away from their families and worked to death. Slaves didn’t grow up dreaming about their futures and all they would accomplish with their lives.
No such opportunities were afforded to them. Slaves would work in someone else’s field for someone else’s profit and then die. That was the great vision for the life of a slave. Yet, despite all of this, despite these incredibly impossible conditions, the accounts that I hear of Southern slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries aren’t accounts of desperation, gloom and despair, but rather accounts of great hope. Slaves had families and joy in their communities. Slaves were respectful of one another and of their slave masters. Slaves worked hard and did what was right.
Whenever I hear these accounts of Southern slavery and the incredible fortitude slaves displayed I have often wondered: Where did they get this strength? Where did they get this resolve? How did they have such hope? And I have discovered that we can gain some great insight on this in old spirituals songs. Consider these few lines from one of the most famous of the old spiritual songs “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”:
Swing Low sweet Chariot coming for to carry me home.
I looked over Jordan, and what did I see. A band of angels coming after me,
Sometimes I’m up, and sometimes I’m down. But still my soul feels heavenly bound.
This is just one example, but if you read through these songs, you will quickly find that just about all of them are about heaven. They are about the day when “we see Jesus,” “when I’m free,” and “our reward will come.” Thus, we see the great secret. American slaves didn’t have very much hope in this life, but that had an unbreakable hope in the life to come. And that hope made them incredibly strong. Despite immeasurable odds they pressed on and walked rightly and humbly before God.
Your future hope is the number one determinative of your present joy, activity, and peace. What you are hoping in for the future will tell you a lot about who you are now. So, the question for you is where is your hope? What are you hoping in that will really last?
My hope for you, for my church, and for myself is that we would hope in the eternal, never diminishing kingdom of Christ. In his kingdom relationships will never end, hearts will never be broken, and true peace will be known. Trust in Jesus, the Son of God who came to earth to save you from your sin and to call you into his eternal joy.