On the Other Side of Sleep

Today is All Saint’s Sunday. I love All Saint’s Sunday for a number of reasons. The weather is usually beautiful and the landscape picturesque at this time of year. We always have lots of baptisms, which are hopeful for all of us. We’ve even got one at the 7:45 service this year! The hymns we sing on All Saint’s are some of my favorites, especially “For All the Saints.”

Another reason I like All Saint’s Sunday is that the time change always occurs on this Sunday. I’m happy when we “fall back” an hour. This, I think, is a minority opinion, but it is true for me. I’m a morning person and I love the light of the early morning. Day dawns, hope awakens, possibilities are at hand, what the day will unfold is yet to be discovered. The sweet song of the white-throated sparrow beckons you into the day. It’s a little bit like approaching the bank of a nice trout stream, even before I’ve put my fly rod together. You just don’t know what you will catch, but hope springs eternal.

I also love the early morning because unless you are dealing with an unresolved issue from the night before, you feel like you’ve got something of a clean slate.  Even if you were awake in the middle of the night worrying about something, the morning sun usually sheds new and helpful light on what was vexing you.  The scripture tells us that God’s mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:23)

Maybe you’re not a morning person and none of this rings true to you. You’d prefer to stay up late into the night and wake up just before noon. You are just not yourself until you’ve had your 10th cup of coffee. Well, take heart, because All Saint’s Day is not really about the morning, it’s about the evening.

Evening has it’s charms too, even and especially at this time of year when the darkness comes early. Evening brings the cessation of the days activities. If all goes well, then your focus switches from work to pleasure- a nice meal, a good book, another episode of Stranger Things. There might be a single malt to look forward to. If it’s cold enough, you can enjoy it by a fire.  If it’s clear enough, you can wrap up and go outside and look at the winter constellations.

Then, if you’re lucky, there is sleep! Again, the scripture says, “In vain you get up early and stay up late, working hard to have enough food– yes, He gives sleep to the one He loves.” (Psalm 127) That is not the most helpful verse to remember when you are lying awake at night, unable to sleep….

Each day has rhythms that mirror the trajectory of our entire lives. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.

As I said, All Saint’s Day is about the evening of our lives. In the scripture for today, we are given a peek behind the curtain of what lays ahead of us on the other side our evenings and our sleeps. We read in our Revelation passage about people who have passed through the labor of their days, with all their attending joys and, in this case, their sufferings.  “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

All Saint’s Day is the day to say that our salvation belongs to God and to the Lamb, rather than to us. For although our mornings may begin with good intentions, and our days speckled with that which is good and true, we all have a burdensome catalogue of bad things done, and good things left undone.

Much happens in our days that we would like to take back. That which we vowed at the break of day would change remained the same at the close of the day. Day after day. Perhaps when we lie down to sleep, reviewing the day that is past, we might pray with John Donne, “Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which I run, And do run still, though still I do deplore? When thou hast done, thou hast not done, For I have more.

It is a very good thing, then, that we are saved by grace and not by the measure of our lives. And as St. Paul says, this is not our own doing. Salvation belongs to God and we will be washed clean by the blood of the Lamb shed on the cross. Perhaps it’s not coincidental that Jesus hangs on the cross at noon – reaching back into our mornings and on into our evenings.

And make no mistake, Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world – the great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages. Even those that don’t know Him now, will know Him then. A minister friend was just at the bedside of a dying woman. She was a wonderful person, but had no real connection to church. She told my friend ruefully, “I wish I had looked more into Jesus Christ during my life.” My friend said “Oh no. That’s not how this game is played. He doesn’t do reciprocal. He has been looking into you your whole life, loving you, supporting you, dying for you, and saving you.

Today we peek behind the curtain to see the other side of our evenings and our sleeps. As we sing, “the golden evening brightens in the west, and soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest… But  lo!  There breaks a yet more glorious day; the saint’s triumphant rise in bright array; the King of glory passes on His way. Alleluia, Alleluia!