Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
My mother taught me that prayer when I was small. I learned it by listening as she stood by my bed to tuck me in at night. At first, she asked me to repeat each line after her. Then, we began saying it together. It wasn’t long before I could say it all by myself.
I wonder what she thought when she heard me say, “If I should die before I wake.”
I don’t think she expected that would happen. But she had already buried two of her children. She surely gave the phrase more thought than I did. To me, those words touched my reality no more than the saying, “Once upon a time…”
I did not know anyone who had died. My greatest loss was a puppy that was run over by a car. Death was not in my field of vision when I was a young child.
Now, it is.
Death has now invaded my life. I find I cannot keep it out. I cannot drive it out. The words, “Dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return” have sealed my fate.
I cannot keep myself alive forever. I cannot keep my loved ones alive.
I no longer think in terms of, “If I die.” Now, it is “When I die.”
The question has become, “How will I die?”
My answer is: “Just like Jesus.”
Not by crucifixion! I hope not by crucifixion. But whenever and however it happens, I want to return my soul to the One who gave it to me—just like Jesus did.
“If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
Maybe Jesus will return on clouds of glory before I leave this earth. Yet, I am not counting on that. I expect my soul will one day leave this body—just like the soul of Jesus left his.
I want to place my soul into the hands of my heavenly Father—just like Jesus did.
I want to rise from the dead—just like Jesus did.
I want to die safe and happy—just like Jesus did.
That’s more than a wish. It’s more certain than a hope. It stands on a promise bought and paid for on a cross.
John, the fisherman, was the only one of the 12 disciples not to be killed for following Jesus. He finished out his years isolated on an island. He had grieved as the other disciples left this earth one by one. The first one to go was his brother, James. What pain that must have caused him!
By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote five books of the Bible. This one, The Revelation of Saint John, was unlike any other. Jesus appeared to him from heaven. He commanded John to write down what he was about to reveal. John did.
About halfway through the revelation, John reports: “Then I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on'” (Revelation 14:13 EHV).
Another word for “blessed” is “happy.”
The death of Jesus bought happiness for those who believe in him.
With my soul in the loving hands of my Savior God, I can die happy.
So, can you.
I can still pray, “If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
So, can you.
With an eye toward Golgotha, we ask Jesus:
Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well. Amen.
(The Lutheran Hymnal 172:10)
Written and recorded by Rev. Paul Horn, WELS National Civilian Chaplain to the Military, San Diego, California.
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