Under A Swift Sunrise
The title of this post (and a book I have written) comes from one of my favorite lines in, The Return of the King, by J.R.R. Tolkien. Toward the end of the story, Frodo finds himself at the Grey Havens, ready to sail off to the undying lands. After saying goodbye to his friends, we find these words,
"And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise."
In the movie, Peter Jackson placed these words in the mouth of Gandalf, in an exchange with Pippin at a crucial moment in the story when all seemed to be lost. Here’s the beautiful conversation between the two characters,
Pippen: "I didn’t think it would end this way."
Gandalf: "End? No, the journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass. And then you see it…"
Pippen: "What? Gandalf, see what?"
Gandalf: "White shores and beyond; a far green country under a swift sunrise."
Pippen, with a smile of consolation: "That isn’t so bad."
Gandalf: "No, no it isn’t."
(here's the clip)
In reading back over those words, I find they do not do justice to the exchange as it took place on screen. I would encourage you to read the book, watch the movie, or at the very least, watch the clip above. I find it to be a deeply moving scene.
Gandalf was right, of course, we are all on a journey. In fact, many of my favorite stories highlight the idea that this life is a journey, one each of us is traveling, and death is part of it. As Gandalf put it, “death is just another path, one that we all must take.”
I don’t know about you, but I long for what is beyond the journey of this temporal life. I long for my true home, which is to say, I long for God. I love Gandalf’s faraway look in the movie, as he reflected on that place he had already been. And when Pippin told him it didn’t sound all that bad, Gandalf knowingly replied, “no, no it isn’t.” Was that the response of Lazarus when his life was being threatened again? He had been there and done that. What about death could possibly scare him now? Gandalf’s smile, faraway stare, and deep sigh assured Pippin that death would not have the last say. There was so much more awaiting them. And us.
King Solomon wrote,
[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Great saints of God have beautifully, if feebly, attempted to capture the height and depth and weight of such a majestic verse as this. In his Confessions, Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Pascal’s oft-quoted idea that people have a God-shaped vacuum in their hearts only God can fill strikes a similar note.
We do have a restless longing in our hearts for eternity, or better, the God of eternity. Perhaps C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory best expressed this deep desire of our hearts. He wrote,
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness… I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each of one of you – the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence… We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.
…The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire, but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing in itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Eternity has been placed in our hearts by the King of eternity. Our longing is a homesickness of sorts. For though this is our Father’s world and was created good, it is now fallen. And when touched by the Holy Spirit we can no longer remain content with the things of this world alone, things that are temporal and destined to fade away.
Perhaps some do not experience such a longing for their true homeland because their hearts and minds are not yet set on things above where Christ our King is seated. Perhaps the ravages of sin have so infected their hearts and minds that a shadow has veiled their sight. We can only pray that the same gracious and sovereign Spirit who touched and re-created us will do the same for them.
In the end there is no end, for we were created for eternity. We are pilgrims and aliens traveling in a foreign land, longing for the City of God, not built with human hands, but eternal in the heavens.
To be sure, we should not seek to hurry to the day we stand before the Lord, for each day of this life is a gift and is sacred, given us by the King of eternity to use for his glory. Yet, as 17th century pastor and author, Richard Baxter assures us, there is for those who know Christ, an indescribable rest. Can you imagine anything better than to rest in the very presence of God himself?
Thus, I will enjoy the life God has given me in the here and now. I will seek his glory each day. But one day, when the Lord calls me home, I will look forward to that far green country under a swift sunrise.
I pray the reflections you read throughout this devotional blog will encourage you for living in this world, even as I pray, they will prepare you for the next. May the longing of our hearts for things unseen serve as our true north, that we might one day arrive Home.
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)