In the Name of the Father, and of the (+) Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
13 For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow (LSB 880)
At the very beginning of Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow, what can be called “the senses of the heart” are called upon to keep vigil while the rest of the world, and even the body, is sleeping. Gerhardt shows that we are to keep watch by meditating upon the promises of God in his word. This is, in many ways, a direct application of Psalm 119:148: “My eyes are awake before each watch of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.”In each stanza of the song, Gerhardt intentionally directs the eyes of the heart to God’s promises. First, he observes the progression of day into night, and the normal, everyday transitions that take place as the sun sets, and as people prepare for bed. From these natural observations, he then directs the heart to God’s promises. As the sun sets, he directs the heart to meditate on Christ, the eternal sun, who will never fade or slumber. As the stars come out, he directs the heart to meditate on the fact that those who are in Christ will themselves stand like stars before the throne of God in heaven. In stanzas removed from the Lutheran Service Book, we see that the work clothes are taken off and bed clothes put on, as Gerhardt directs the heart to rejoice in the robe of honor and glory with which Christ himself dresses his people. As the tired body longs to rest from the day’s labors, he directs the heart to long for the freedom from sin and misery that Christ will give. As the weary body is laid upon the bed ready for sleep, he directs the heart to ponder the sleep of death, and to hold onto the sure promises of Christ who himself will raise his people to new life in the glorious, eternal morning of his resurrection.While the physical senses are sleeping soundly, the spiritual senses of the heart are only just beginning the work of meditating on God’s eternal promises in Christ, and longing for each one to be perfectly fulfilled when God’s victory is made complete; the dark night will soon be over, and the eternal day will surely come.
There is a beautiful rendition of the hymn at the top of this post.
1. Now rest beneath night’s shadow
The woodland, field, and meadow,
The world in slumber lies;
But thou, my heart, awake thee,
To pray’r and song betake thee;
Let praise to thy Creator rise.
2. O sun, where art thou vanished?
Thy golden rays are banished
By day’s old foe, the night;
Farewell, for now appeareth
Another Sun, and cheereth
My heart—’tis Jesus Christ, my Light!
3.The day is now declining,
The golden stars are shining
In bluest heav’nly hall;
Thus, thus shall be my splendor,
When my God calls me yonder
From this world’s sad and mournful vale.
4.To rest my body hasteth,
Aside its garments casteth,
Types of mortality;
These I put off and ponder
How Christ will give me yonder
A robe of glorious majesty.
5. Head, hands, and feet reposing
Are glad the day is closing,
That work came to an end;
Cheer up, my heart, with gladness!
For God from all earth’s sadness
And from sin’s toil relief will send.
6.Ye weary limbs! now rest you,
For toil hath sore oppressed you,
And quiet sleep ye crave!
A sleep shall once o’ertake you
From which no man can wake you,
In your last narrow bed—the grave.
7. My heavy eyes are closing;
When I lie deep reposing,
Soul, body, where are ye?
To helpless sleep I yield them,
O let Thy mercy shield them,
Thou sleepless Eye, their Guardian be!
8. Lord Jesus, Thou dost love me,
Oh, spread Thy wings above me
And shield me from alarm!
Though Satan would devour me,
Let angel-guards sing o’er me:
“This child of God shall meet no harm!”
9.My loved ones, rest securely,
For God this night will surely
From peril guard your heads.
Sweet slumbers may He send you,
And bid His hosts attend you,
And golden-armed, watch o’er your beds!
Nun ruhen alle Wälder
Paul Gerhardt, 1653
Source: Evangelical Lutheran Hymn-Book, 1930, No. 33, alt.
Almighty God, all our days and hours are in your hands. Thank you for the lovingkindness you’ve shown us all our days in this life. Please, dear Father in heaven, keep us in the one, true faith, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from us. This we ask for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
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