Asleep with Christ
However, the dynamic image above contrasts with the great pall of silence that hangs over the Church today - the silence of the Lord in the tomb. The Second Reading in the Office of Readings for today speaks of this stillness that reigns over the world, as Christ descends into the realm of the dead. But it is noteworthy that this ancient homily for Holy Saturday, using early Christian terminology, refers to death as sleep: "God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages"... Hence, the following reflection on sleep, death and Christ, from Fr Geoffrey Preston OP is a fitting reflection for this holy day. He writes:
"'Into your hands I commend my spirit', a verse from Psalm 31. Rabbinic literature often refers to this psalm verse in connection with prayer in the evening. It recommends that the Jew, before going to sleep, should entrust himself with these words to the mercy of God. In the modern Jewish prayerbook it is found among the night prayers for children. Jesus may well have learned such a practice as a child and remained faithful to it all his life. And now as he was dying, as he was about to fall asleep, he prayed as he had always prayed before going to sleep. 'Into your hands I commend my spirit; you have redeemed me, Lord, you God of truth'...
In Compline we repeat again and again the verse from the psalm which Jesus prayed as his goodnight prayer on the cross. At Compline we sing an antiphon to Our Lady that is sung traditionally when people are dying...
Sleep and death. In the New Testament the words are often interchangeable. Lazarus falls asleep. Stephen falls asleep. Sleep is an image of death, but death can be sleep... Learning to sleep is part of learning to die...
How do we learn to die? By practising dying. How do we practise dying? By going to sleep properly night after night, letting the past day go and saying: 'Into your hands I commend my spirit.' Then we discover that it is not just obedience and acceptance of our biological situation but that we can freely and even gladly choose to fall asleep and to die. It can be a matter not just of necessity but of salvation.
The prayer of Jesus on the cross, his good-night prayer, is given to us each night at Compline so that we can find that such letting-go may do us all the good in the world. You cannot 'go to sleep', you fall asleep, you let go into sleep. If we refuse to relinquish our hold on the day, hanging on grimly to our achievements, whatever they are, we lose them in the loss of ourselves. But if we let them go they will be ours to enjoy again tomorrow morning, and in the morning of the Resurrection. 'Anyone who loves his life loses it; anyone who loses his life will keep it for eternal life', because he will have given it into the hands of the Father where it will be safe and sure. He will keep us, and so we can relax the vigil over our own personality not just for one moment or two, when caught offguard, but for a whole night and then for ever...
That is the way of life to which we are called as sons and daughters in the Son of God. We are called to receive from the hands of God whatever he chooses to give us, whatever comes to us by way of the laws of nature or the events of life, and to let ourselves be moulded into true sons and daughters in that way."
(Hallowing the Time, 109-112)
Let us pray:
"Come to visit us, Lord, this night,
so that by your strength we may rise at daybreak
to rejoice in the Resurrection of Christ your Son,
who lives and reigns forever and ever."