The New Testament declares, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). When I was a young firey preacher, I had a coffin brought to the church house in the middle of the night (Saturday) and they set it up on the rostrum. No one knew of it except the elders of the church. Needless to say I learned a big lesson on that Sunday morning. The sealed coffin was there. The auditorium was full. A literal buzz was being heard through out the crowd. Right before I rose to speak I heard an old brother say, “Blasphemy, that’s what this is, Blasphemy!”
The lesson was simple but the empty coffin was too real. No one wants to face the reality that death is the only way out of this life. Louis XV, king of France, was so afraid of dying that he ordered the word ‘death’ should never be mentioned in his presence. In spite of all his fears, he died of smallpox on May 10, 1774.
When “TAPS” is played, hats are removed and heads are bowed. It’s the song that gives us a lump in our throat and bring tears to our eyes. The story of the song (and even the words) are generally unknown.
It all began in 1862 during the Civil War, when Union Army Captain Robert Ellicombe was with his men near Harrison’s Landing in Virginia. The Confederate Army was on the other side of the narrow strip of land. During the night, Captain Ellicombe heard the moans of a soldier, severely wounded on the field. Not knowing if it was a Union or Confederate soldier, the captain decided to risk his life and bring the stricken man back for medical attention.
Crawling on his stomach through the gunfire, the Captain reached the stricken soldier and began pulling him toward his encampment. When the Captain finally reached his own lines, he discovered it was actually a Confederate soldier, but the soldier was dead. The Captain lit a lantern and suddenly caught his breath and went numb with shock. In the dim light he saw the face of the soldier. It was his own son.
The boy had been studying music in the south when the war broke out. Without telling his father, the boy enlisted in the Confederate Army. The following morning, heartbroken, the father asked permission of his supervisors to give his son a full military burial, despite his enemy status. His request was only partially granted. The Captain had asked if he could have a group of army band members play a funeral dirge for his son at the funeral. The request was turned down since the soldier was a Confederate. Out of respect for the father, they did permit him to have one musician for the funeral.
The Captain chose a bugler. He asked the bugler to play a series of musical notes he had found on a piece of paper in the pocket of the dead youth’s uniform. The wish was granted. The haunting melody, we now know as “TAPS”, used at military funerals, was born.
“Day is done,” “Gone the sun,” “From the Lakes,” “From the hills,” “From the sky”. “All is well,” “Safely Rest,” “God is nigh”.
“Fading Light,” “Dims the sight,” “And a star,” “Gems the sky,” “Gleaming bright”, “From afar,” “Drawing nigh”, Falls the night”.
“Thanks and praise,” “For our days”, “Neath the sun”, “Neath the stars,” “As we go”, “This we know”, “God is nigh”.
We all have stood in awe when “Taps” was played. I remember vividly the funeral of John F. Kennedy, and the single bugler that echoed those notes through the rolling hills of Virginia. The last note was held for a long time and then very gently faded away. Now you know the words and it will only enhance the sound of “TAPS” when you hear it again.
Job declared, “man, who is born of woman, is short lived and full of turmoil. Like a flower, he came forth and withers; he also flees like a shadow and does not remain” (Job 14:1-2).
James pictures life in a more modern way. “Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit. Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just as a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, if the Lord wills we shall live and also do this or that” (James4:13-15).
To the believer, great hope is given. “For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building of God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1) ” TAPS ” will be blown for us all.