On Wednesday, the remains of Billy Graham lay in honor at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. He is the first religious leader to be honored in that way.
Hundreds of people streamed past his coffin and a ceremony celebrating the evangelist’s life was held in the hallowed halls of the nation’s Capitol. As part of that ceremony Michael W. Smith sang “Just as I Am.”
Smith first met Rev. Graham at a Crusade in the 1980s. He played the piano and led the song “How Majestic Is Your Name.” “He got a kick out of me stomping my foot,” the singer said. He recalls Rev. Graham being “deeply genuine.”
Smith performed at many of Rev. Graham’s crusades and said he learned from the evangelist to be transparent and relational, not “try to beat everyone to death with a Bible” when sharing the Gospel. Some people might feel uncomfortable sharing their faith, he said, but he encourages them to “step out there and be bold. … Muster up some faith and just go for it.”
On his website, Smith paid tribute Billy Graham:
“I knew it was coming….we all knew it was coming. Billy was 99 and his health had been declining for years. And I knew from my visits with him that he longed to be with his Creator and he longed to be reunited with his beloved Ruth. But, even given that, I was devastated when I got the news this morning that my good friend Billy Graham had breathed his last breath here on earth. He welcomed me on his stage countless times. Each and every Crusade was so special. But more than anything—I cherished the friendship we developed.
“Friend, mentor, counselor, hero, leader, example, pastor—he was so many things to me—making the impact of his passing such a deep hurt. At the same time—I know Billy would be questioning why we grieve. Because he is now in paradise. He is face to face with the Jesus he so loved and served so well.
“I bet his mansion is actually a log cabin—not that different than the one he and Ruth called “home” in the North Carolina mountains. I’m pretty sure it has a couple rocking chairs for him and Ruth and an endless line of heaven’s residents lined up to thank him for introducing them to Jesus.
“I will miss Billy—the same way Debbie and I have missed Ruth. But I rejoice in the promise that we will someday be together in heaven.”
In 2013, Smith released a song in honor of the evangelist titled “I’ll Lead You Home” inspired by Graham’s longing for heaven. The song is a conversation Graham might have with Jesus when he gets there.
The lyrics of the song include this line,
So let it go and turn it over to
The one who chose to give his life for you
Leave it to me
I’ll lead you home
Smith said of Graham, “He stood before millions and he sat with world leaders. Everywhere he’s gone, he’s taken the message of the gospel and the world is different because of that one man.”
Graham’s remains left the Capitol Rotunda Thursday to be returned to North Carolina for a private funeral on Friday.