Song Friday: “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”

Eddie-redmayne-empty-chairs-at-empty-tablesDecember 2012. It was just a few weeks after Bethany’s death. The Christian group we had been a part of, the group that had become a cult, had been broken up.

I had left the group about six months before, so I’d had a whole summer to process the fact that we weren’t actually a team of end-times apostles getting ready to lead the world into a glorious new dawn. I couldn’t imagine the disillusion some of my friends must be facing as their world crumbled around them, as they came face to face with the reality that the man they had trusted and followed for five years had led them into a quagmire of illusions.

Everyone had gone home to Texas, and the two houses were empty. The yard where we had gathered at sunset in late summer for end-times training was already being overtaken with weeds. The tables where we had met in the evenings to eat dinner and talk about the Middle East and the book of Revelation and the heaven on earth that we were bringing sat in the garage unused.

In early December, the week after my birthday, my friend Chad invited me to go with him to see a stage production of Les Miserables. Tickets were free and I wanted to get out of my house, so we went to the Crown Center on a cold Sunday night.

I should tell you that the Group had been in love with Les Mis. It was one of our favorite stories. We were always listening to the music, reading aloud from the novel, arguing about which of the characters we were and where we would end up.

But watching it now after a year of travail and disappointment, the play took on a new resonance. There at the end, as the grass grew over the graves of the young men who had taken up arms against their country, I watched Marius stumble through the rooms of the blood-soaked pub where the fires had been lit.

Here they talked of revolution

            Here it was they lit the flame

            Here they sang about tomorrow

            And tomorrow never came


            From the table in the corner

            They could see a world reborn

            And they rose with voices ringing

            And I can hear them now

            The very words that they have sung

            Became their last communion

Chad turned to look at me, a look of profound understanding.

And somehow that made it okay to admit what I was feeling, the feeling I had been resisting since the song started, that yes, that was me. The words tore into my soul with a poignancy that can only be known by those who have lived them.

I remembered all the promises God had made us, all the visions we had shared with such eagerness in prayer time. We were going to live in the city of Babylon together. Some of us would work normal jobs while the rest prayed and evangelized. The leaders of Israel would flee to Egypt, seek us out, and be converted. Tyler had seen himself marching into the palace of the Antichrist, flanked on either side by me and *Peter. I was holding a pen in one hand, writing down every word that was spoken. “Your eyes shall see the king of Babylon,” God had told him, “and he shall speak to you face to face.”[1]

And all those dreams, where had they gone? They had withered like the summer grass. My dearest friend was dead. Everyone else had fled. The revolution was over before it even began.

            Phantom faces at the windows

            Phantom shadows on the floor

            Empty chairs at empty tables

            Where my friends will meet no more


            Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me

            What your sacrifice was for

            Empty chairs at empty tables

            Where my friends will sing

            No more


            There had been a time when we all thought we were heroes. We used to go through our favorite stories and argue about which groups bore the most striking parallels to our group. Dumbledore’s Army. The Tribulation Force. The four Pevensie children. Clark, Lois, and Chloe. Marius, Eponine, and Cosette.

And we got it half right. In the end, I think we were living in a story. Only, like those phantom faces peeping in through the tavern window, all along we had been fighting on the wrong side.

So much loss. So much waste. So much for heaven on earth.

[1] Jeremiah 34:3


9 thoughts on “Song Friday: “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables”

  1. Boze, I remember seeing the movie shortly after everything happened, and I wept and wept and wept for these very same reasons. In the months following, I would sometimes turn on this song and just cry, because the song seemed so perfect for what happened. I’m surprised we never talked about this song. I’m glad you wrote about it.

  2. Boze, you capture the time with eloquence. As painful as the realizations are they hold so much health and are so crucial for healing. Please continue to write!! Blessings…

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