I still remember where I was when I heard the news. My phone rang as I had finished my first class session for my Spring semester at college. The alarming call came from my father who informed me my grandmother had passed away after fighting her battle with cancer. My heart sank. Too distracted to continue on with the school day, I immediately packed up my bag and made the drive home to be with my family so we could grieve together. To keep my mind from racing in the silence, on the way home I turned up the car stereo and listened to music. In the midst of grief, I wanted to find words and hear lyrics that pointed me toward the hope of heaven and provided me with comfort in loss. I found both in Will L. Thompson’s “Softly and Tenderly”.
Even before my grandmother’s passing, the beloved hymn already had impacted my life. I can recall hearing this hymn numerous times throughout my childhood. I remember singing the lyrics many times during our church’s worship services. Each time the song served as a reminder to me of the hope of salvation found only in Jesus Christ. This song did more than remind, though. It introduced an invitation to this hope. The opening lines of verses 1 and 2 speak to this when they say,
Verse 1: Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me
Verse 2: Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading, pleading for you and for me?
These lyrics share the truth Jesus is calling for people to come to know Him as He draws them to Himself. Jesus is pleading for those to turn away from their sin and turn to Him for salvation. One Sunday I finally answered the call. I confessed my sin against God and looked to Jesus Christ as my only hope for salvation. The Lord had called me home as His child.
Years before my profession of faith, my grandmother had been pointed to the same hope of salvation. She had turned from her life of sin and placed her trust in Christ. She progressed through the years and remained faithful to her Lord. As she was in her final stages of life, she did not fret but faced it with a peace that surpassed understanding (Philippians 4:7). My mother later made the remark she had not seen someone so at peace in the last days of their earthly life. I suspect it was because my grandmother had taken the lyrics of verse 3 to heart:
Verse 3: Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing, passing from you and from me; shadows are gathering, deathbeds are coming, coming for you and for me.
With her time fleeting and moments passing, she knew what was to come. She did not worry about life after death but planned out the service that would take place because of her death. One of the songs she listed to play during visitation and the funeral service was the melody of “Softly and Tenderly”. For her, the beloved hymn was not merely a word on the hope she had of salvation; it was also a word confronting her and others with the reality of death and grief. She knew the time of her death had come and the shadows who gathered would now be grieving. The Lord had called her home to be with Him, and those still alive needed comfort.
The comfort in the face of this loss could not come from cheap words of pleasantries or in the offerings of apologies for the loss. The only comfort to hold true would be the comfort of God’s promise. It is on that note verse 4 of the hymn wraps up,
O for the wonderful love he has promised, promised for you and for me! Though we have sinned, he has mercy and pardon, pardon for you and for me.
The love of God is the comfort for those grieving the loss of a loved one. Because of the mercy and pardon Christ offered willingly by dying on the cross, all who trust in God’s promise will find comfort in the loss of loved ones who have went to be with Him. In their grief, they find comfort and hope, and they are able to find them because of what Jesus Christ has done.
In the hour drive home to be with family, “Softly and Tenderly” became a song that hit home for me. The sweet and tender words of the hymn filled my heart with hope my grandmother was present with the Lord and comforted me as our family was experiencing this loss with her gone. Since her death, anytime I hear the first note of this hymn played, I know this is a song that will take me home.