“Can The Circle Be Unbroken” by The Carter Family
40 Days Of Country – Song #16 – Lent 2016
The impact The Carter Family, who performed from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, had on the American music landscape, can not be understated. With influence from bluegrass, folk, and gospel, and recordings that infused pop, country, and rock sounds, The Carter Family could take just about any song and make it a hit.
In 1935, patriarch A.P. Carter reworked the classic, gospel hymn, “Will The Circle Be Unbroken (By and By)” into the classic Carter Family hit, “Can The Circle Be Unbroken (By and By)” by updating some of the lyrics and giving it a folk sound that allowed Maybelle Carter to showcase her signature guitar-picking style. Once June Carter joined the family singing group, it wasn’t long before her future husband, Johnny Cash, had once again adopted the song for his hit, “Daddy Sang Bass,” once again reverting the lyrics to the original titles, as most covers of the song have done ever since, and using it as an autobiographical reflection on the childhood loss of his brother.
The song is a classic piece of Americana, with heavenly oriented themes central to much of Southern Gospel. Specifically, the song addresses the hope of being reunited with loved-ones passed in the eternal life to come, with lines like, “Can the circle be unbroken, bye and bye, Lord, bye and bye? There’s a better home a-waiting in the sky, Lord, in the sky.”
This hope of heaven as a batter place to come in our life after death was central to Jesus’ message in the Gospel of John. In a passage that is as relevant at funerals as any other day in our lives, Jesus tells his disciples, ““Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. 2 My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? 3 When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too.” As Christians, we share in this hope that this life is just a foretaste of the glory to come, when we are once again united together in and by the grace of Jesus Christ.
Graceful Savior, while we set our eyes on the heavenly future that awaits us, let us never lose sight of your Kingdom come here on earth. May we be active participants in your mission here and now, as we are assured of your presence with us for all eternity. Amen.