Holy One, thank you for your constancy in an inconstant world. Thank you for the blessings of the day and the quiet of the night. Teach me the lesson of peace, and the depth of my need to rest in you. You entered our humanity, and lived our righteous life, and died for us a sacrificial death, and rose for us victorious over the grave. Teach me the mystery of faith that unites a man to his Savior, and let me rest in you—Amen.
“It matters not, though death draw nigh
In curtained chamber fair,
Or on the deep, ‘mid wrecking blasts,
If He be with us there:
And may my ransomed soul at last,
Time’s storm-tried voyage o’er,
Sit down, like Mary, at his feet,
And listen evermore.”
-Lydia Huntley Sigourney, from “The Third Day at Sea”
In J.R.R. Tolkien’s tragic fantasy The Children of Hurin, there is a scene towards the beginning where Hurin, the mighty warrior, is disputing with Morgoth–an evil power, who is a figure of Satan. Morgoth has just dealt a terrible blow to the forces of good, and has Hurin for prisoner; but still Hurin defies him. Among his words of defiance is this statement of transcendent hope:
“Beyond the Circles of the World you shall not pursue those who refuse you.” (65)
Truly, the great struggle of the soul is confined to this world, and this life. Satan’s power cannot reach beyond the gates of death. And those doors, so fearful, have been by Christ transformed. Though shadowed still by uncertainty and limned with grim finality, they mark nothing terrible for those who belong to the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
For the Christian, death is the passage to everlasting joy in the presence of the Lord, the departure to be with Christ and abide with Him until the day of resurrection, when all things are made new.
In this life there is much we might fear. But courage comes with the conviction of certain vindication. For the present, Satan has been allowed to act, even though already decisively defeated at the cross. But his power stops at the gates of death. He cannot pursue those who refuse him.
“To whom, O Savior, shall we go?
The night of death draws near;
Its shadows must be passed alone,
No friend can with our souls go down
The untried way to cheer.
Thou hast the words of endless life;
Thou givest victory in the strife;
Thou only art the changeless Friend,
On whom for aye we may depend:
In life, in death, alike we flee,
O Savior of the world! to Thee.”
-Frances Ridley Havergal, final paragraph of “Faith’s Question”.
“As Thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice, so lift up the light of Thy countenance upon us, and make us glad with the tokens of Thy love. Be Thou with us, O Lord, and let Thy grace follow us this day, and all the days of our life. Be Thou our Guide unto death, in death our Comfort, and, after death, our Portion and Happiness everlasting–Amen.”
-Benjamin Jenks, quoted in Great Souls at Prayer, 357
All our ‘why’s, our tears,
our anguished cries, seem hollow
set against the silent skies–
does heaven not hear?
But God is near, He
reaches down, bent down to wear
our thorny crown, and
stretches hands to us,
as stretched His arms upon the cross.
Our pain is answered cruciform;
our why is stilled at His reply,
“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani!”
the cry that answers all our pain–
death’s death-knell, most awful,
most wonderful, numinous strain.
And grief will be ended,
and joy live again.