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November 1, 2014

Though I am not a golfer, I enjoy watching an occasional round of golf on television. In April of this year, I watched a little of the Masters Tournament at the Augusta National Golf Course. The best players in the world make golf shots possible only in the dreams of weekend duffers.

In the final round of the Masters, the television cameras follow the player who seems destined for victory. Walking up the fairway on the 18th hole, the apparent winner is welcomed to the final green by cheering fans. Striding up a hill of green grass surrounded by blooming azaleas to the applause of a crowded grandstands, the victorious golfer knows that he is only a putt or two away from receiving a Master’s jacket and a large check.

I imagine that the victory walk up the 18th fairway at the Augusta National Golf Course may be somewhat like the entry into heaven. In my mind’s eye, that final approach must certainly be beautiful and thrilling. I can picture a welcoming host of people cheering those recently arrived. The Bible puts it, “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses…” (Hebrews 12:1)

The great cloud of witnesses are those people who have gone to heaven before us. They include friends and relatives, ready to welcome us as we enter. Anticipating heaven is knowing that we will be gathered together with people we have loved on earth.
The last day of October is Halloween. It is a time when children wear costumes and go door-to-door asking for candy. Halloween’s origins go back to All Hallows Eve, the evening before All Hallows Day. Also called All Saints’ Day, it is a feast day established for all martyrs and saints by Pope Gregory IV in 837. All Saints’ Day is celebrated on November 1st as a day of remembrance for those who have preceded us to heaven.

I visited a woman who was 93 years old. She wanted to arrange the details of her funeral. We discussed scripture passages that were important to her and the music she wanted included. Then she said, “You know when I get to heaven, my friends are going to be surprised to see me.”

“Why do you think they will be surprised?” I asked.

She explained, “They have been there so long, they must have wondered if maybe I went in the other direction.”

When I conducted her funeral, I shared her comment. I’m sure her friends in heaven were delighted to see her.

The hope of heaven is the hope of seeing the Lord, face-to-face. We all want to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.” But as the elderly woman said, “I do want to see the Lord, and I’ll be glad to see Him first. But I’ve got a whole lot of people I want to see shortly thereafter.”

All Saints’ Day is a time when we remember our loved ones, friends and family, people of faith who have already experienced the joy of eternal life. For them the words of John of Patmos have been realized. “God will wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for former things have passed away and all things have become new.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

Several years ago, Clare and I went to Homecoming at Furman University. We celebrated our fortieth class reunion. At the reunion banquet, I was asked to read a list of the thirty classmates who have died since our graduation and have a prayer of rememberance for them. Before I read the list, I shared a story. The previous year those gathered for reunion had quite a surprise. A class member who had been listed as deceased for ten years showed up for the reunion. Classmates were delighted to see him! They gave him the award for traveling the greatest distance to get to the reunion.

For people of faith, heaven will be full of surprises. Surely among the happiest will be the glad reunion with all of the saints who have gone on before us.

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