Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the order of prayer for the close of the day, called Compline, there is a prayer that I like to sing with my children before they go to sleep. It says, “Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.” That’s a pretty good summary of what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5: Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.
Guide us waking, O Lord, that awake we may watch with Christ. This is almost the whole of what both Jesus and Paul tell us about the Day of the Lord. The Day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. The day and time is unknown. Anyone who claims otherwise is, by definition, a false teacher. No one knows that day. No one knows when we will see Him and when this age and this creation will come to their completion, so we must watch. Guide us waking, O Lord, that awake we may watch with Christ. Guide us that we do not fall into the one error, where we would think we can know the time or the day; and guide us that we do not fall into the other error of complacency. While the first error has certainly been present throughout history—even in our own time—it is the second error that seems to be more prevalent.
So Jesus, in Luke 21, says, “Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the cares of this life.” This is an echo of the parable in Luke 12, where a servant who has been put in his place by the master of the house thinks that his master is delayed. Maybe He will not come at all. So he eats and drinks and gets drunk and begins to beat the other servants. Because that servant of the Lord forgets to watch, forgets to pray, forgets to do what has been given him to do, the Lord returns when he does not expect. The day comes suddenly, while people are saying “Peace and security.” They think that everything will go on as it always has, sometimes better, sometimes worse, but it just keeps going.
But then the day comes suddenly, like birth pains, like a hidden trap snapping shut. It will come upon all those who dwell on the face of the earth, without exception. And those who ignored the Words, those who grew heavy with the cares of this life and forgot the goal and the end of all things, they will not escape that day. Guide us waking, O Lord, that awake we may watch with Christ; that we may stay awake at all times, praying that we may have the strength to escape all the things that are going to happen; that we have strength to stand before the Son of Man in faith. Guide us waking, O Lord, that watching for Christ, we may do what has been given us to do, that we may not grow weary, that we may not let the sins, and worries, and anxiety of this world crowd out our faith, hope, love, and joy. Guide us waking, O Lord, that everything that glitters and shines in this creation would not drive us from the simple Word and Sacraments.
Guide us waking, O Lord, in the midst of so much darkness and night. You have called us out of darkness into your marvelous light. We are sons of light and sons of the day, not sons of the night or of the darkness. Jesus says, Believe in the light while you have the light! I am the light of the world, He says. The one who believes in Me will never walk in darkness. Guide us, O Lord, that we do not slip back into the sleep of darkness, into the sleep of apathy and lovelessness.
Guide us waking, O Lord, that awake we may watch with Christ; that we may hear and absorb and meditate on His word; that His Word and Sacraments may shape and form us into the kinds of people who wait and watch patiently for His coming and do the work that we have been given to do in our families, our jobs, our churches, and our communities. He clothes us by His continual gifts of Word and Sacrament with the breastplate of faith before God and love toward one another; He puts around our heads the helmet of the hope of salvation. Head and heart; faith, hope, love. Guide us waking, O Lord, that awake we may watch with Christ.
Encourage one another with these words, Paul says, and build one another up. At this moment, there are some who need the encouragement of the Word, that as children of the light, their labor is not in vain, regardless of whether they see results or success or fruit at this particular moment. At other times, others need that encouragement. Those who feel it now encourage those who need it now. Those who feel it at other times encourage those who need it at those times. Encourage the grieving; encourage the sick; encourage the suffering; encourage the dying; encourage those who are weighed down by the cares of this world. If you don’t need such encouragement at this moment, the time will come when you will need it. Encourage one another and build one another up, just as the Church has always done, so that none of us slips back into the darkness. You are children of the day, not children of the night.
This word about the coming of the Lord, along with its related hope of the resurrection of the body and the restoration of all things, is a word of encouragement because the Jesus who will come is the Jesus who has already come. The Jesus who will come to judge the living and the dead is the same Jesus who was judged sinful and judged worthy of death, in your place. The Jesus who will come in the glory of His Father with all the angels is the Jesus who came in humility and hidden in the flesh of the virgin. He lived and died in this world of darkness that we know too well, to claim you for His own, because God did not appoint you for wrath, but for the gaining of salvation through our Lord, Jesus Christ.
The prayer for the end of the day, the prayer for the daily rhythm of waking and sleeping, is also the prayer for the end of life, for the rhythm of living and dying. In this way, it is much like Luther’s morning and evening prayers. He says, when you get up in the morning, make the sign of the holy cross and pray. So we pray in the morning, “Keep me this day from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please Thee.” And when you go to bed, make the sign of the holy cross and pray. So we pray in the evening, “Forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong and keep me this night.” So we live under the baptismal cross, praying against sin and evil. And so we die under the baptismal cross, praying that God would grant us forgiveness for Jesus’ sake.
This Jesus died for you in order that whether you are awake and watching, or whether you are asleep in death, you live with Him. He is the resurrection and the life—not only then, at the end, on the Day of the Lord, but now, day to day, while we are awake and while we sleep. If we fall asleep in Christ—if we die—we will live in the resurrection; if we are alive when He comes, we will be transformed and never die. Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace. While we live here, day to day, in the midst of both joy and sorrow, we watch in faith and prayer, hoping in the sure and certain promise. And while we sleep, whether in our graves or in our beds, we rest in peace. We know that the Jesus who will come on that unknown, but not unexpected, day of the Lord is the same Jesus who is present with us today and every day, giving us His Holy Word, His Holy Absolution, His Holy Supper—that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/18/17