Requiem aeternam, dona eis Domine, “Rest eternal grant them, O Lord.” These words are probably familiar, especially if you have attended a funeral at a Roman Catholic or Episcopal church. As Reformed Christians, quotations from the Requiem Mass can raise our spiritual hackles a bit, and rightly so. We do not believe that praying for the dead is something we should do. But taken on its own as a prayer, “Rest eternal grant them, O Lord” is quite appropriate. It all depends on who the “them” is!
St. Augustine highlights the universal need for rest in his Confessions, “You move us to delight in praising you; for you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” We need little convincing that we live in a restless world. Wars, pandemics, inflation, injustice, information overload, familial strife, job stress, emotional stress, or simply the dog barking next door, all contribute to the turmoil within most of us.
Rest is a very significant concept in the Bible. From the beginning God established rest as part of the regular rhythm of our existence in the Sabbath ordinance. God himself rested on the seventh day from his work of creation, blessed it, and made it a holy day.
The people of Israel were instructed to keep the Sabbath day as a holy convocation, a holy gathering, both because God had worked six days and rested one day (Exodus 20:11), but also because he had rescued them out of slavery in Egypt (Deuteronomy 5:15). God promised that when they inherited the land, they would have rest from their enemies (Deuteronomy 25:19). The point of this was to provide his people with a place to worship him which was unencumbered by the nations’ armies and gods. They would be distraction free.
God promises David rest from his enemies, and that he will build a house for him and establish his throne forever (2 Samuel 7:11-13).
Jesus, the Son of David, came offering rest: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29).
The author of Hebrews points to the fact that the “rest” offered in the book of Joshua pointed ahead to a greater rest, “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:8-10).
The book of Revelation says, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. ‘Blessed indeed,’ says the Spirit, ‘that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!’” (Revelation 14:13).
Finally, Revelation speaks more fully of the joy and blessedness of the redeemed: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ He also said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Revelation 21:3-5).
This year, the Good Friday Choral Concert features a work entitled “Requiem for the Living” by Dan Forrest. This five-movement work combines words from the traditional Requiem text with words from Scripture. Movement one is a prayer that God would grant eternal rest to all the living. Movement two sets words from Ecclesiastes emphasizing the vanity and hopelessness of those outside of Christ. Movement three sets the traditional “Agnus Dei” text, looking to Christ, the Lamb of God as the one who takes away the sin of the world. Movement four is a setting of the Sanctus, extolling the holiness of God and praising him for the salvation offered through Jesus Christ. Movement five concludes the work with Jesus’ invitation from Matthew 11 to come to him for rest and points forward to the eternal blessedness of those who die in the Lord.
The second work to be presented is the Te Deum by Herbert Howells. This is a stunning twentieth century choral setting of the ancient hymn extolling the Holy Trinity.
This is a wonderful opportunity to introduce a friend to Tenth and share with them the rest which can only be found in Christ. Join us as we praise our risen Savior together!