Musica Sacra: Find Your Rest
By Gaven M. Mize
There is only one silence that that calls out to people. Here and there you might hear the shuffling of feet. The blowing of a nose, a quick exhale, a desperation that fills the room when the pews groan and the wooden floor squeaks out a reminder that the room isn't empty after all. Yet, in between those moments there is a deafening silence. It's a silence that calls out to you, making you realize that the one you love who lies in the casket before you will not speak your name again. This silence calls to us all. Momento mori, Latin for "Remember, you too, will die."
As that silence, along with the tormenting thought that you will one day be in that casket, attempt to take hold of you, you hear a voice singing softly. It begins to caress away your anxiety and fears:
"Lord Jesus, since You love me,
Now spread Your wings above me
And shield me from alarm.
Though Satan would devour me,
Let angel guards sing o'er me:
This child of God shall meet no harm."
Safe. Loved. Shielded. All these truths fill your ears reminding you that you are a child of God. And thanks be to God, so is the one who lies in the casket. You are reminded of the truth that although your loved one is dead, he lives. And then again your ears perk up to:
"My loved ones, rest securely,
For God this night will surely
From peril guard your heads.
Sweet slumbers may He send you
And bid His hosts attend you
And through the night watch o'er your beds."
As a pastor I sing "Now Rest Beneath Night's Shadow" (by Paul Gerhardt) before every funeral. I sing it from the back of the nave. I begin the song very softly and try my best to weave in and out between the sadness and gladness of all who are attending. As I approach the end of the hymn I pick up my voice and sing triumphantly for the hearers to know that, while what is about to happen is going to hurt and while they don't want to say "goodbye" to their loved ones, still the grace of Christ envelopes them. This is simul justus et peccator, simultaneously saint and sinner, in all its reality, directly before our eyes.
Christians might use the term, "the simul" as a cool phrase but it's vital to begin to acknowledge the depth of the term, so that we might understand how meaningful it truly is. The brutal reality is that we are 100% sinner and we are 100% saint and we spend this life trying to reconcile that, sometimes forgetting that Jesus already has done so. This becomes very evident at a funeral, as much as it does when you are in private confession, or when you slip back into that pet sin and immediately grit your teeth and beg God to remind you that you actually are His child, born from the waters of Holy Baptism. And so you are. You are simultaneously a saint and a sinner, which means you, too, will be in that casket one day, but thankfully only for a time. For Christ will come for His Bride, the Church. It is then that we can face the day once again. Even as the sun is setting on the day when you bury your loved one you remember the pastor singing:
"The rule of day is over
And shining jewels cover
The heaven's boundless blue.
Thus I shall shine in heaven,
Where crowns of gold are given
To all who faithful prove and true."
With a sigh of relief, you can know certainty that you will see your loved one again. In fact, you will see Christ with them. So, lay down your head. Close your eyes. Pray that God's angels keep guard over you. You have had a sad and difficult day. Rest. Shadows are forming and sleep is calling. What more is there to do after all, other than to:
"Now rest beneath night's shadow
The woodland, field, and meadow;
The world in slumber lies.
But you, my heart, awaken,
With prayer and song be taken;
Let praise to your Creator rise."
Tomorrow when you awake, remember your Baptism. Go boldly into the day. I'll see you come that final dawn when the simul is no longer the reality with which we must contend, and we'll experience the fullness of our salvation--our sainthood--in Christ.
This article was originally published in the spring 2019 issue of Higher Things Magazine.
Rev. Gaven M. Mize is the pastor of Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hickory, North Carolina. He is also a scholar in beauty (catechetical aesthetics), author of several books, including Beauty and Catechesis and God Loved Me Such That He Would Give, husband to Ashlee and father to Oliver Augustine (Skeletor) Mize.
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