When I see my dad’s sleeping body in a picture now, I feel more of an emotional pull than I did during the initial days of heightened activity and responsibility that came immediately after his death.
Although the picture gives me an uncomfortable feeling, I remind myself that it is only his body. My dad’s soul rests, but I take that part of him to be very much alive.
Asleep in Jesus (Margaret Mackay, 1832)
Asleep in Jesus! Blessed sleep,
From which none ever wakes to weep;
A calm and undisturbed repose,
Unbroken by the last of foes.
Asleep in Jesus! Oh, how sweet,
To be for such a slumber meet,
With holy confidence to sing
That death has lost his venomed sting!
A living, undisturbed repose sounds good, doesn’t it? Would you even go with “sweet”? “One Sweetly Solemn Thought” is a rarely used, death-aware song; it has the distinction of being the only hymnal song I’ve ever seen that has a stanza that ends with a dash, strongly connecting it to the next stanza. The first stanza expresses a sweet reality: “today I’m nearer to my home than e’er I’ve been before.” The final two stanzas are below.
One Sweetly Solemn Thought (Phoebe Cary, 1852)
4. Savior, confirm my trust. Complete my faith in Thee,
And let me feel as if I stood close to eternity—
5. Feel as if now my feet were slipping o’er the brink,
For I may now be nearer home, much nearer than I think.
I think I will always be able to quote those words from memory. What a splendid, solemn thought—to be secure in “slipping over the brink” into restful sleep in Jesus.
Finally along these specific lines, I am reposting some commentary and the words to “Still, Still With Thee,” which will probably always be a go-to death-and-new-life song for me.¹
So, what will the first day be like — that first “day” after Jesus’ return? ² What might we imagine in terms of our own presence in that moment of all moments, that event to end all earthly events? How will it be for me? I have no idea, really, but I know, by faith, that my spirit’s awareness of God will eclipse all else.
Still, Still With Thee (Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1855)
Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh,
When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee;
Fairer than morning, lovelier than daylight,
Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee.
Alone with Thee, amid the mystic shadows,
The solemn hush of nature newly born;
Alone with Thee in breathless adoration,
In the calm dew and freshness of the morn.
When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber,
Its closing eye looks up to Thee in prayer;
Sweet the repose beneath the wings o’ershading,
But sweeter still to wake and find Thee there.
So shall it be at last, in that bright morning,
When the soul waketh and life’s shadows flee;
O in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning,
Shall rise the glorious thought, I am with Thee.
Stanzas one and two: The first two stanzas, unified, poetically express the encounter of the eternal in terms of a resplendent, earthly daybreak. All the beauties of the dawning of a new day while in a natural surroundings are, however, eclipsed by the breathless adoration of our stunningly brilliant God.
Stanza three: As death appears imminent, and even potentially in the actual experience of dying, the believing soul casts his eyes in faith toward God. As a foreshadowing of the final rest, for the human who experiences the Lord’s protective peace, a certain rest may come. Yet a humanly experienced peace is neither satisfying nor absolute. The waking—the arising to a consciousness of a Presence like no other—this is the completion.
Stanza four: There is no more lofty, no more finally fulfilling thought than to be with God forever. Come, Lord Jesus, and take Your bride home.
It is happenstance that all three of these poems were written during roughly the same period in American history. Perhaps I have simply not been looking for death-related poetry written more recently. Or perhaps there are other reasons for an uncommonly rich focus on death in the Lord during the middle 1800s.
¹ I learned “Still, Still With Thee” as an arrhythmic chant for male quartet. Unlike “Crossing the Bar,” featured here, I have never come across a better musical match for the “Still” words than the male quartet music.
² Then, days may not exist, as such, but they might not have existed during the creation of the world, either.