Robed in White Apparel

In the heat and humidity of a July afternoon, I stood by my mom and dad in the small-town cemetery as Rev. Stockmeier presided over the interment of my 11-year-old brother, Roger. I felt nauseated, a feeling I had become accustomed to over the last few days. I thought about touching the bronze casket one final time, but I suddenly became intimidated by the large gathering of townspeople, neighbors, and Roger's classmates who surrounded the gravesite.

Rev. Stockmeier's compassionate voice interrupted my glance over the crowd. “Roger’s family has asked that we sing the first verse of ‘By the Sea of Crystal.’” Everyone knew the familiar hymn, but the words came slowly and haltingly. I tried to sing, but the words wouldn't come through the numbness that enveloped my whole body.

By the sea of crystal, saints in glory stand,
Myriads in number, drawn from every land.
Robed in white apparel, washed in Jesus' blood,
They now reign in heaven with the Lamb of God.

As Rev. Stockmeier began reciting the Lord's Prayer, I began to ponder the phrase “robed in white apparel.” As much as I tried to imagine my brother Roger “robed in white apparel,” the image wouldn't appear.

Neither Roger nor I had ever had a robe; in fact, a couple of years before we had discarded our boyish pajama bottoms in favor of wearing our boxers to bed. My thoughts went to our bedtime ritual for the past two summers: a visit to the bathroom, the quick flight upstairs, a hurried prayer—Mom always asked if we’d said our prayers—and then pulling out our shoeboxes full of baseball cards from underneath our beds. Roger and I would arrange and rearrange the cards, sometimes according to teams, other times according to stats. Finger-marked and bent at the edges, the cards of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ernie Banks, Sandy Koufax, and many others provided the basis for lively conversation and possible trades from one shoebox to another.

Tonight, though, I knew I would peruse the baseball cards in solitude. There would be no one in the bed next to mine. My nausea returned. But suddenly, in the now eerie silence of the cemetery, I saw Roger dressed in a white baseball uniform. That’s it, I thought. Jesus has Roger dressed in a white baseball uniform—home whites! And not only would it be white, but it would stay white—even after Roger made a headfirst slide into second base.

Uplifted by that image, I managed a smile as my dad turned toward me. He put his hand on my shoulder, and together we turned away from the harsh reality of the grave into a future with remembrance, imagination, and hope.

About the Author

Gordon Van Zanten is a retired Christian school educator. He lives in Golden, Col.

See comments (1)



This beautiful story reminds me of a dream I recently had about my wife who is suffering from advanced dementia. I wrote a lengthy poem about it, including the following few verses. In luke 15, Jesus tells us that after the prodigal returned home there was "music and dancing".



Through my darkness did gleam a wonderful dream, which I have to tell you about;


It was given you see, out of God’s love for me, to remove from my mind any doubt;


That He holds my wife dear, the dream made that clear, her future immeasur’bly better


Than her life here below, in this dark vale of woe; her Saviour will never forget her.”




I saw my dear wife, not as now in this life, but just as she was when we wed.


As lovely as ever, I know that never have such thoughts entered my head.


I reached out my hand - to draw her close to me and - to tell her in words unexpressed,


My love is e’en deeper and I want to keep her as close as I can to my breast.




She wore a silk gown, a golden tan-brown, its skirts reaching down to the floor;


And a necklace that seemed to me as I dreamed, like one I had bought her before.


My eyes opened wide, I was watching her glide so gracefully round that great hall;


She was dancing, ‘tis true, I cried for I knew I was watching a heavenly ball.




I awoke with a start, and thought in my heart that God may have taken my love


to His home far away, where all His will stay in mansions in Heaven above.


‘Please Lord, don’t take her. You’ll not forsake her, but I’m still not ready, you see,


For her to depart’, I prayed from my heart; His grace was sufficient for me.




By dawn’s early light, I feared that she might have departed this sad world of death;


I feared for the worst, my eyes ready to burst .. into tears had she breathed her last breath.


Then, pleasant surprise, she opened her eyes, her face with a radiance glowing


No words did I hear, her eyes told me, “My dear, ‘tis a wonderful place where I’m going.”




If dreams have a meaning, from mine I am gleaning our future will ever be glorious,


On that faraway strand in a beautiful land with those who have gone there before us;


And that dream was given to tell me of heaven and even my hopes to enhance;


That one day, in that place, by God’s marvellous grace, I will join my beloved and dance.”