It happened one Easter morning, many years ago. I sang in church. Yes, me… Those who know me know full well that I cannot carry a tune in a bucket. Oh, as a young boy my mom signed me up for our church’s youth choir. We looked the part in our white robes, but as I recall, we didn’t achieve much in the way of sound. I contributed my high pitched whine out of my nine year old throat, and sitting next to Robert Bernache (perhaps the only young man in the ensemble with a worse singing voice than mine) we sounded pretty awful. We didn’t actually sing much on Sundays. Oh, we practiced every week, for a grueling ninety minutes on Wednesdays after school. However we didn’t make it to the platform very often. We were strictly minor league talent.
So, how was it, some ten years later I found myself singing in grand fashion at the crack of dawn at our Easter Sunrise Service? In a word… group effort. (okay, that's two words) It started as a concept in my cousin Barry’s brain. Barry was a couple of years older than me. He had a great love of music, mostly of the country variety. He was a fairly new fixture around the Long Plain Baptist Church, but he fit in well with the young people there. Soon he had us all aware of the weekly Country Countdown, and we became well versed in names like Charlie Pride and Tanya Tucker. I preferred the Beatles, but Barry had a car and with it came control of his am/fm radio in the dash. Well, he landed on a version of “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder,” that was perfect for a male quartet. He assembled four of us, amazingly myself included, and started teaching us the parts. My contribution was to be a one note backup vocal of bah bah bahs and I found I could handle that much. By the time Spring rolled around, Barry, Joel, George and I were sounding pretty good.
My dad, the pastor, caught wind of our song and requested to hear it. So, one April evening before youth group, we piled into my dad’s office and with Barry keeping time with a foot stomp we managed to harmonize our way through two stanzas of the old Gospel number. My dad was thrilled. Alright… shocked is more like it. “You boys are going to sing that at the sunrise service!” he exclaimed. We had made the big leagues.
I admit it wasn’t a traditional Easter song, but we killed it. Slayed it. We had the sunrise crowd on their feet. I bah-bahed my heart out and when we reached the final note, Barry reached back and soared an octave higher than he ever had. We boys looked at each other in surprise as we held our own, last triumphant notes, but Barry was looking only skyward, lost in the musical moment. It was Barry’s song and he had brought it on home in fine fashion.
Less than a month later we lost Barry to a tragic automobile crash. We were all devastated. But we understood that Jesus had taken Barry home in his own fashion. The day he was killed, Barry told his family he was eagerly awaiting the arrival of the latest offering from his “album of the month” record club. It did arrive at the house on that day when he did not. It was a collection of country artists sharing songs of future glory. It was called “Home in Heaven.” Barry really did know how to finish on a high note.