Scheduled for February 16
1863, the Civil War then raging, a small town in Pennsylvania decided to
formally open a military cemetery, occasioned by a battle nearby. They invited
one of the leading orators of the day, one Edward Everett, to give the formal
speech which was considered so necessary. They invited him to speak on October
23rd. He declined, asking more time, for such a speech would easily run from
one to two and a half hours -- and the city fathers would want their money’s
worth. November 19th was selected as the day.
author described it this way: “An oration was an oration in those days, and it
had to have a certain style to it -- classical allusions, a leisurely approach
to the subject matter, a carefully phrased recital of the background and
history of the occasion, the whole thing working up to a peroration which would
sum everything up in memorable sentences.” Everett began with Pericles in
ancient Greece, and slowly wound his way through Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones
on to modern times.
applause indicated the speech was well received. The city fathers had received
their money’s worth. Edward Everett was indeed the master orator, as
advertised. Sitting down, Everett handed matters back to the master of
ceremonies who announced that the President of the United States, on hand as
befitted such an occasion, had a few words as well. The thin form of Abraham
Lincoln walked to the podium, spread out two sheets of paper, and began: “Four
score and seven years ago....”
only reason anyone remembers anything at all about Everett’s speech that day is
because of the remarks by Lincoln. His remarks turned a cemetery dedication at
Gettysburg into history.
strikes me that our worship is something like that. We spend a great deal of
time singing, and even more time in preaching. At the tail end of the service
there seems to be some sort of ceremony, almost an afterthought. An ignorant
visitor might assume it was of trivial importance; after all, wasn’t most of
the time spent in preaching and singing? Yet we know that of all our worship
activities, the most indispensable, the most central, is the Lord’s Supper.
those at Gettysburg that November who forgot Edward Everett’s noble speech, we
may forget the preaching, we may forget the words to the songs, but we must
never forget what Jesus did for us. Communion is not an afterthought. It is
the center of worship, for it commemorates what Jesus did.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address needed no great length -- indeed, I think its
impact is greatly increased by its brevity -- Communion needs no great span of
time either. In it God speaks to our hearts, encouraging us to repentance, to
remembrance and to hope. The real question is, are we listening?
preaching is appropriate; the singing is wonderful; but only the sacrifice of
Jesus on the Cross can bring salvation.