Resting, now and later

By Hank Slikker
Special to The PREVIEW
Rest in peace. So read many headstones in graveyards throughout the earth. It’s a kind of final goodbye for the one beneath the stone.
To me, it seems more like an all-purpose wish for those who don’t really know what to say. After all, the dead cannot hear the farewell and cannot know the difference between death and kind wishes, anyway. We might say it’s a final hope for someone who never knew rest, or for someone who never knew peace, or for someone who never knew either.
Sometimes though, epithets on headstones come with a few final comments that have about as much seriousness as RIP. Like, “RIP — Please Deactivate My Facebook”; or “RIP Cousin Huet — We All Know You Didn’t Do It.” And there’s, “RIP — I Told You I Was Sick.”
In reality, many of us are on our way to rest. We’re not there yet but we plan to be. I don’t mean our final resting place, but the next one. We look forward to our two weeks on the beach to listen to waves and birds and to read a good book in our beach lounge chair.
Our minds are full of hate. We hate our boss, we hate the traffic, we hate the weather and we hate lots of other stuff we should not mention.
Or, we might spend our two weeks in the mountain forest with no phone, no TV, no radio and no neighbors, where heat comes from wood and hot coffee in a carbon-caked cup, with the wife smiling and the kids laughing. Rest helps us rid ourselves of emotional junk that clutters our hearts.
But there’s a problem. Two weeks of rest out of 52 is not enough. It’s just not enough. A cessation of motion on the beach or in the mountains, the tranquility of tranquility, the absence of anxiety or the calm of a resting soul — somehow it all melts away on the highway home. Just 50 weeks left until we can say, “rest assured.” And we wonder, “Can I make it until then?” Well, we can cheer up because most everyone has it the same. We’re all in the same boat, or bus or whatever, without rest.
And our lack of rest is not just because we’re in the future or in the fast-changing world that’s so hard to keep up with. It was the same 2,000 years ago.
The gospel writer Matthew wrote that when Jesus saw the multitudes coming after Him, “He felt compassion on them because they were harassed and thrown down, like sheep without a shepherd” (9:36). Fortunately for the world, Jesus offers rest to all who want it. He says, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest … and you will find rest for your souls” (11:28).
I don’t know what Jesus means when he says rest for your “souls,” but I think it means that the rest He offers goes deep down. I think it’s the part of the soul that houses stuff that only God can see, and that we have no words for, but that keeps us tired and weary.
The good thing about Jesus’ rest is that we don’t have to die to get it. We can have it right now instead of 50 weeks from now and it will stay with us until He dies, which won’t happen again.
The writer of the book of Hebrews invites his Christian audience to enter this rest. They were having a hard time. They had to decide to denounce the Savior or continue to suffer persecutions, even possible death. That’s a lot of stress. Yet even in this severe moment, the writer urges them to rest in it. He says, “Strive to enter His rest” (4:11). Sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it?
What kind of rest is it? Well, it’s the same rest that God rests ever since He finished His work of creation. It’s a place, or a room, and we get in by faith. It’s a rest that is available to us every moment of every hour if we want it. It’s a kind of “sacrament of the present moment,” as one Christian contemplative calls it. It is communion with God each moment since He lives within us. So whether we’re driving to work, looking for work, talking with our neighbor, talking with the grocery clerk, or the bank teller, or the waitress, or we’re walking the dog, paying our taxes, or visiting the hospital — whatever we do, we’ll do it in rest.
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This story was posted on September 21, 2017.