Richard Versalle was portraying the minor role of a law clerk named Vitek in a performance at the prestigious Metropolitan Opera in New York City. He was age 63 and had suffered absolutely no adverse health problems. In the opera there is a beautiful and mysterious woman who wants to live forever. Her father, a chemist-magician, concocts a powerful elixir which allows her to live more than 300 years. But Versalle, portraying the law clerk, sings a line which goes, “You can only live so long.” Little did anyone who attended the opera that night realize that those words—“You can only live so long”–would be the last sentence ever to come from the lips of this man whose singing had touched the hearts of thousand and thousands in his career.
No sooner had Versalle sung the line when his heart failed, and he fell, landing motionless on his back with his arms outstretched. Realizing that something was wrong, the stage manager immediately dropped the curtain and the performance was canceled (then only the third time for this to have happened in the history of the Met after a performance had begun). Anthony George, the singer’s manager, was sitting in the orchestra seat only a few feet away when Versalle died. George told the press that as far as he knew he had suffered no health problems whatsoever.
Long ago the writer of Hebrews wrote, “…man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Of one thing you can be sure, when it comes to the length of our lives, we may fantasize about living for 300 years, but the fact remains there is an established number of years for every person to live and after that we face death. In life there are many inequities. Some have the money to have the finest seats in the opera. Some have only enough to sit in the balcony far away from the action. And some can’t even afford the least expensive seat in the house; however, when making an entrance and an exit to the stage of life, every one is perfectly equal.
Facing death, however, is neither scary nor foreboding when you have the concrete assurance that death opens the door to eternal life. That’s the difference that Jesus Christ made in our world. He stood before an open grave and said candidly, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies” (John 11:25).
Jesus Christ alone faced death and then came back to talk about it, and it is this fact–that death could not hold Him–which makes what He said credible and so important. He told His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them and that He would return and receive them to Himself so that where He was, they also could be. An eternal home in the heavens is what Jesus was talking about– something as real, however, as anything on earth (see John 14:1-6).
A friend of mine called to give me the rather shocking news that leukemia was taking his life and that doctors did not expect him to live more than five days. Even though he was in his mid 80s, his voice was strong and firm. I’ve never known a more godly man who, in spite of the sadness in saying farewell to friends and family, bore an excitement in His voice. He knew where He was going, and He knew the way to heaven was through Him who said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). “You can only live so long,” sang Richard Versalle. He was right.
Resource Reading: Revelation 20:1-15
Text: I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies. John 11:25
GUIDELINES with Harold Sala – August 8, 2017