In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John hears a voice calling from heaven saying:
“Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!” (Revelation 14:13)
It is a promise of eternal rest for the saints of God – rest from labor, hardships and all toil and tears. It is the final lifting of the curse that was imposed on our ancestors, Eve and Adam, after they sinned against God.
And to Adam God said, “Because you … have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:17-19)
The labors we experience because life in this world of the Fall is hard and at times harsh. It is God who promises us a rest from all labor when the eternal kingdom is established.
In our funerals and memorial services, we pray that God will give rest to the souls of those servants of God who have departed this life, just as is promised in Revelation. We even speak in our services of dying as falling asleep, we are entering into a rest from our labors. Yet, even though death is a sleep, a rest from our labors, we fear death, and often avoid talking about it. Death is the one thing in life we are guaranteed to experience but we rarely want to think about it. Talk about living in denial!
We all look forward to the joy of the Pascha midnight celebration, and yet what are we singing about there? Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death… Pascha is all about death and the dead – about the death of death. The very things we avoid thinking about are both part of the greatest celebration of the Orthodox Church.
Myself, I am preparing to enter into retirement, which I hope will be a rest from my labors, but then I think about the Parable of Jesus:
And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:16-21)
I hope I am not that rich fool. I know I’m not financially rich. I did not work to build the parish in order to have an easy life in this world. My hope is that our labor in establishing St. Paul parish has made us rich towards God. So when the day comes for us to enter into that sleep, we will do so joyfully awaiting God to call us awake.
For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)