17 April 2011

The Gift of Sleep

Psalm 127
Psalm 127:2
The power of Scripture is not to be found in the number of words contained in a particular passage, but the power of the promise often contained in a few words in a single verse. Such a promise is found in Psalm 127:2, and it offers a word of security to us.
We have come here to remember and to honor the memory of one called home by the Father. I stand here to remind you that in the words of the psalmist, our friend is simply sleeping. In stating these words, we are not denying the reality of death. We are not ignoring the fact that one has been called home. Death has invaded our ranks. Death is not something we can ignore. It is not emotionally healthy to deny the passing of our loved ones. God’s grace is available to us for these moments, but the Holy Spirit can help us only to the degree that we are willing to recognize reality.
Therefore, the psalmist is not playing a deceptive game with us and tempting us to avoid the reality of the moment. Through the beautiful imagery of peaceful sleep, the psalmist is pointing toward the source of true rest. By use of the word sleep, more is implied than simply the kind of rest we take at the end of each day. We have all been tired and know of the peace of a gentle sleep. There have also been times for us when the exhaustion was so great that sleep would not come immediately. When sleep finally came, it really took on the nature of a gift. The psalmist spoke of a sleep which is needed by all who have journeyed long and hard in life.
The concept of sleep is used throughout the Bible in different ways. Old Testament Scriptures frequently refer to death when speaking of sleep (see Jer. 51:39). Not uncommon in ancient Jewish thought is the reference: “He sleeps with his fathers” to speak of death.
In the early church believers might be spoken of as those who “sleep in Jesus” when thought to have died in the faith of the Redeemer (see 1 Thess. 4:14). Jesus used the expression to describe Lazarus as sleeping: “But I go that I may wake him up” (John 11:11).
The psalmist said, “He giveth his beloved sleep” (KJV). Let us consider this sleep for a moment as we gather to honor the memory of this dear one. We need to realize that God is the Source of that gift of sleep. Certainly the sleep we receive at night can be counted as a gift. Who of us has not at some time been totally exhausted and our body cried for rest? The sleep that came to us was a refreshing gift. There have also been times when late into the night, for whatever reason, sleep seemed never to come. When sleep finally embraced us, we counted it as a wonderful gift.
If sleep in the evening is a precious gift, so is the sleep referred to by the psalmist. Once it descends upon us, there is no more suffering, hardship, or struggle in life as we know it now. Death, with all of its mystery and unknown, is many times very merciful.
Encouraging is the fact that God not only sends sleep, but He brings it to us personally. He gently touches the eyes of His tired servants and offers the gift of sleep. The gift of sleep offered to this good friend around whose mortal body we gather is special for many reasons.
First, this sleep is special because it is inevitable and certain. Without a doubt there will come a time for each of us. We should take care not to envision this time in our lives as having been overcome or defeated. It makes more sense to see it as a time when God will cause each one of us to lie down after a busy life, and His gift to us will be restful sleep.
Second, this sleep is a special gift because of its quietness. Think of the noise of life. There are few moments when true peace exists. Even our nightly sleep is often interrupted by a noisy world. The gift of God’s sleep does indeed bring a kind of peace that in this stage of life we can only think about and imagine.
Third, this sleep is special because it represents the tenderness of God. Possibly you have been in the hospital and, due to surgery or an accident, have experienced pain. You, then, know the relief that sleep can bring. The sleep that God gives takes away the pain of suffering. God’s gift of sleep is an expression of His tender love for us. He desires that we have peace.
When life and death take on the imagery of waking and sleeping we begin to see death as the natural process it is. With all of its unknowns it can be seen as a part of our inheritance. The Holy Spirit stands at our side, and the shadow of this sleep is merely the shadow of God Himself. All of the suffering, pain, and struggle are left behind. Nothing can harm the saint of God.
Death takes on the appearance of a lonely experience. This is not the case. The chambers of the dying are crowded with friends. Angels stand ready to take charge. And in the midst of all this is a gentle hand, and a soft voice which calls one from sleep. The Lord does give “His beloved sleep.”
One other word needs to be said about this sleep. Sleeping implies awakening. True is the fact that a happy awakening depends upon one’s faithfulness while life’s opportunities were there. What we do on earth is important. Our conduct in this life very much affects the kind of sleep that God gives. The peace of our sleep is determined by our faithfulness in this stage of life. When we awake, we will behold the face of Jesus Himself. When Lazarus awoke, the first person he beheld was Jesus. When you and I awake from this gift of sleep, the greatest joy in our lives will be to see the One who made true life possible.
These words are spoken to family and friends to remind you that what we have come here to do is not to pay homage to death. We come to celebrate God’s gift of sleep. Death is not some evil force that overcomes us from behind, but is indeed a way for God to grant us the promise He has made to this loved one and to each one of us.
One of life’s most difficult moments is saying good—bye to someone very special. But God gives us strength to do that when we put our faith and trust in Him. It is then we are able to see that this sleep is only a way of claiming His eternal promise.
Prayer:     Lord, we entrust all our hours to you. In our waking moments and in our sleep, we rest in You. We also entrust our loved ones to You in these moments of ultimate sleep. Amen.

Cadenhead, Al, Jr: Minister's Manual for Funerals. Nashville, TN : Broadman Press, 1988, S. 102

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