On June 27, 1936, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his acceptance speech for nomination to a second term as President of the United States. Against a backdrop of the Great Depression, his words rang in homeless shantytowns, to men without vocation, to families without food and shelter. “This generation of Americans,” he declared, “has a rendezvous with destiny.”
A year earlier, FDR sent General Douglas MacArthur to the Philippines to establish a military force in the region. One day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Little military backing and diminishing supply took its toll. Defeat seemed inevitable. President Roosevelt issued a command that MacArthur leave the island. A month later, 70,000 U.S. and Philippine soldiers were captured and forced to march to the capitol in what would become the Bataan Death March. Seven thousand soldiers died during the 80-mile torturous trek.
When WWII ended, MacArthur, in his eloquence, stated:
Today, the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. The skies no longer rain with death – the seas bear only commerce – men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight. The entire world lies quietly at peace… I speak for the thousands of silent lips, forever stilled among the jungles and the beaches and in the deep waters of the Pacific which marked the way, ‘We have known the bitterness of defeat and the exultation of triumph, and from both we have learned there can be no turning back.'”
General MacArthur had a rendezvous with destiny. In 1962, West Point Academy bestowed upon the frail, 82-year old their most prestigious award. In his acceptance speech he spoke of what mattered to him:
The shadows are lengthening for me. The twilight is here. My days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday.
I listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the witching melody of faint bugles blowing reveille, of far drums beating the long roll. In my dreams, I hear again the crash of guns, the rattle of musketry, the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield. But in the evening of my memory, always I come back to West Point. Always there echoes and re-echoes: Duty, Honor, Country.
Today marks the my final roll call with you, but I want you to know that when I cross the river my last conscious thoughts will be of The Corps, and The Corps, and The Corps. I bid you farewell.”
Paul, the Apostle, understood his rendezvous with destiny. He taught that Christ would return for believers in the small church he established in Thessalonica. When the congregation began facing the death of their loved ones, they questioned Paul’s word. Doubt crept in, but Paul was smart. He did not simply tell them the truth; he demonstrated it. He tied their hope to their knowledge. He secured the resurrection of the believers to the resurrection of Christ: “Since we believe that Jesus rose from the dead, we also believe that He will resurrect believers who have died with faith in Him.” Then he went a step further, “We who are alive and remain shall be caught up together . . . to meet the Lord in the air.”
You and I, also, have a rendezvous with destiny. We have known triumph and defeat, and we have determined that there can be no turning back. Our destiny is indelibly linked to a baby, a cup, a cross, a grave, a tomb, a promise. Were we to take license with MacArthur’s poignant farewell, we may offer this, our own valediction:
“The shadows are lengthening for us. The twilight is here. Our days of old have vanished, tone and tint. They have gone glimmering through the dreams of things that were. Their memory is one of wondrous beauty, watered by tears, and coaxed and caressed by the smiles of yesterday. We listen vainly, but with thirsty ears, for the moving melody of a dusty hymn, of voices raised to join the song. In our dreams we hear again the crash of the ocean waves, the laughter of a child, the sad, sorrowful sound of those who mourn. But in the evening of our memories, always we come back to what remains our highest hope. Always there echoes and re-echoes Jesus’ words: “Do not be afraid. I hold the keys of death and Hell.”When we mark our final roll call, when we cross the river, our last conscious thoughts will be…..
O, Death, where is thy victory?
Oh, grave, where is thy sting?
(1 Corinthians 15:55)