My father, a pastor, has been with a number of people who are on their deathbeds. He’s even been with people at the moment of death. One particular instance was a fourth-grade boy who had a debilitating disease. As he lay gasping his few last breaths, his parents asked him, “Who loves you?” This dear boy replied, “Jesus.” Then his eyes opened wide as he pointed to the corner of the room. No one else saw anything in that corner, but my dad is certain that the child saw Jesus or an angel coming to take him home. What a lovely way to face death, in faith and peace, with Jesus in sight and Jesus’ name on his lips, following the example of Jesus’ own final words.
Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.
As Jesus’ death quickly approaches, He is still quoting Scripture, this time from Psalm 31:5. He is committing Himself in calm assurance to the Father’s care. And believe it or not, we mirror that attitude with a fair amount of frequency in our own lives as Christians. Every time we sing the Nunc Dimittus after communion, we commit ourselves to God’s care and ask for His peace: “Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace; Your word has been fulfilled.” The Nunc Dimittus is even included our funeral service at the end. (Lutheran Service Book, page 281.) Or look at the service of Compline, an evening service. The responsory is an exact quote of Psalm 31:5: “Into Your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.” Consider the old nighttime prayer you may have learned as a child, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray The Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” (Or the alternate ending, “Let angels guard me through the night, until I wake in morning light.”) Even Luther’s Evening Prayer commends us to God’s care: “For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things.”
You see, dear Christian, all our lives we make a habit of commending ourselves to God’s loving care, so that when death comes, we need not fear it. We know we can depart this earthly life with confidence and in peace, for we have been living under God’s faithful care all along. In a sense, then, all our lives we are practicing for death, for we commend ourselves to God’s care both in life and death.
Dear one, if you are in Christ, death has no power over you. Yes, we will all die an earthly death, but that is not the end. Jesus commits His spirit to the Father. When your final hour comes you can do the same. Your spirit belongs to the Lord. Because Jesus defeated death for you, death for a Christian is no more frightening than falling asleep. Memorize Luther’s Evening Prayer to say each night before you go to bed. Pray the words of the antiphon from the Nunc Dimittus from Compline each night: “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest In peace.” And one day, when your own death draws near, commit yourself to your Savior’s care and fall asleep in Jesus.