In the sixth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus instructs His disciples to come and rest for a while. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells an inspiring story about a servant who works hard all day in the field. As the sun goes down, his tired body drags in, not to lounge or slumber but, to wait on his master. Only after completing this act of service, does he take his rest saying, “I am your servant. I have only done the duties that I am here to do.” (Luke 17:7-10)
“To rest,” in the spiritual or biblical sense, is not what we usually think of: lounging, slumbering, relaxing, or vegging out. Rather, to rest is to joyously reflect upon our achievements, gain restorative energy in the presence of the Master, or surrender ourselves, body, mind, and soul, to God. Of course, it also involves sleeping, dreaming, getting off our feet, relaxing our muscles, and letting our body heal; but it is primarily a restoration through gratitude of accomplishment and joyous existence in the Lord’s holy presence.
When those we know pass beyond earthly death, we often pray that they will rest in peace. Though their body does, indeed, appear restful in a casket, we usually don’t imagine their new life in heaven as one in which they sleep all the time. Rather, we visualize them in the loving embrace of God’s infinite consolation, ecstatic in their new existence, mindful of all that they experienced in this realm, with a song in their soul and a mellow heart that delights in happiness. I particularly think of Blessed Mother Mary who, after she had completed all she was here to do, fell asleep and exhaled her final breath. Like the servant who labored in the field all day and came home to wait on his master, she rested after accomplishing her purpose and was, similarly, ushered home. Mary’s life was one of total surrender, doing only what she was here to do. It began with the annunciation when she said, “I am the servant of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.” It continued with the presentation in the temple when Simeon, the aged prophet, told her that a sword of sorrow would pierce her heart as she held in her arms and beheld in her passion the manifestation of the omnipotent, omniscient one as an infant boy-child and later at the foot of the cross as the sacrificed man-God. It culminated at her dormition when she offered her final surrender, giving herself in totality to God and His divine will. Whether the end of a good long-day working hard in the field or the end of a good long-life laboring lovingly in the world, we, too, are invited to surrender ourselves to God in rest.
When we say “rest in peace” we also might note that “peace” is not just the absence of conflict or of aggression; it is the presence of God and of love. We don’t take our final breath just to escape earthly battles but that we can rejoice in the beatific presence, realizing we have accomplished what we were here to do. And so, as Saint Paul imagines and writes, we share in the crown of victory across the finish line.
When I die and am buried, I hope that, rather than a tombstone with an epitaph above my body, I will have a stone where people can sit that contains the message, “Come and rest for a while.” It would remind passers-by to joyously reflect upon our achievements, do what we’re here to do, periodically take reflective time to restore our energy in service to our Master and Lord, and then come home to be embraced in His open arms and share in His unimaginable joy.