Hymn text by Jeremiah E. Rankin, 1828-1904. View the full text of this hymn.

This is a hymn we most commonly associate with closing and goodbyes. We may sing it at the end of a meeting, at the end of a relationship with a friend, or any other time something in our lives comes to a close. When my family was about to move to a new state when I was in high school, my sister sang this hymn for our congregation, and I imagine everyone present understood it as her way of saying a tearful goodbye.

Considering the fact that we’ve never been back, it was an appropriate choice. We often sing this hymn knowing that we will actually see each other soon. It’s often the closing hymn of the final session of General Conference every six months. And yet, if we listen to the words of the chorus, it seems clear enough that the goodbyes we sing aren’t intended to be temporary ones:

Till we meet, till we meet,
Till we meet at Jesus’s feet,
Till we meet, till we meet,
God be with you till we meet again.

We don’t pray that God will be with those we love until we see them next week at church, or a few days later at the grocery store. The goodbyes we sing are long-lasting. We expect to see each other next at the Savior’s second coming, and while no one knows precisely when that will be, we can expect that it probably won’t be tomorrow, or even the day after. Since these goodbyes will be so long, we naturally want to take the opportunity to say something important. What would be the most important thing you could say to someone, knowing you wouldn’t see them again for a long, long time?

God be with you till we meet again;
By his counsels guide, uphold you;
With his sheep securely fold you.
God be with you till we meet again.

We start by invoking the Lord’s protection on our loved ones. This isn’t to say that the Lord wouldn’t be willing to protect and watch over them if we didn’t ask, of course. He loves each of us dearly, without exception. Rather, His blessings are often made conditional on our asking for them. “Seek, and ye shall find,” we are taught, “knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” So we ask the Lord to watch over our friends, knowing that He will. He will lead them in righteousness and protect them as one of His fold.

God be with you till we meet again;
When life’s perils thick confound you,
Put his arms unfailing round you.
God be with you till we meet again.

The door swings both ways, though. It’s one thing to ask for the Lord’s aid, but it’s quite another to be willing to accept it. And so we pray that the Lord will protect our loved ones, but we also counsel them to allow Him to protect them. His arms are eternally stretched out to us, but as we sing, it’s up to us to put those arms around us. We welcome Him into our lives by following His teachings and keeping His commandments. We make and uphold covenants, and we do our best to remain worthy to keep the Holy Ghost with us. We try very hard to be like Him, and when we fall short (and we do often), we repent and try again.

That’s a daunting enough task in the best of times, but when things aren’t going our way, it’s even more difficult to turn to Him. This is why, when presented with an opportunity to tell our friends and loved ones from whom we will soon be separated something of surpassing importance, we choose to remind them to endure to the end. We remind them that “press[ing] forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope” is the only way toward eternal life, and it’s a long road. It’s not enough to make covenants and changes in your life and fail to keep them. We must choose to uphold those choices every day to stay in the path.

So, when given the chance to share one last message with our friends and loved ones before we part ways, we ask the Lord to reach out His hand to them. We also ask our friends to take that hand, so that they can walk together down the strait and narrow path toward eternal life. We hope to meet them there someday.

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