Therefore I say to you, O nations that hear and understand, “Wait for your shepherd; he will give you everlasting rest, because he who will come at the end of the age is close at hand. Be ready for the rewards of the kingdom, because perpetual light will shine on you forevermore. (2 Esdras 2:34-35, NRSV)
These verses hail from the Apocrypha, those “hidden writings” which, while not accepted with the full authority of Scripture by the Reformers, were nonetheless regarded as “useful and good to read” (Martin Luther). The Belgic Confession (1561) suggests that “the church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books.” So, hearing nothing in these verses from 2 Esdras that is out of harmony with the rest of Scripture, we will take the Reformers at their word and read these verses for all they are worth.
Harpists will testify to the fact that plucking one string causes related strings to vibrate. Similarly, plucking this verse from 2 Esdras causes other canonical strings to vibrate in sympathy. The shepherd reference, of course, sets Psalm 23 and John 10 to humming. But the reference to rest calls to mind this passage from Revelation 14:12-13—
Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments
of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. And I heard a voice from Heaven saying,
“Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the
Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them.”
Finally, we hear echoes of Revelation 22:5 in these verses as well:
And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord
God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
As I wrote this reflections, I got the news of the death of Frank Gibson. Frank served for many years as the executive director of the American Waldensian Society, and was beloved on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean for his kindness, good humor, and commitment to justice. Although he would never have claimed to be a “saint” in the conventional sense, I could not help but think how appropriate it was that he heard the Good Shepherd calling him into light perpetual on All Saints’ Day.
If ever there was a piece of music that captures the warmth and assurance of verses like these, it is Edward Elgar’s “Lux Aeterna.” As you listen to it, call to mind the life and memory of a dear one who has died. Remember them with gratitude, and entrust them to the Shepherd who led them through the valley of the shadow and into light eternal.
Pray: May light eternal shine upon them, O Lord, with Thy saints forever, for Thou art kind. Eternal rest give to them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
Introduction to the Tuned for Praise Series
Leonard Bernstein once observed that “music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable.”
In this series, we will take advantage of music’s power to pick up where words leave off. Each Bible passage will be paired with a link to a recording that—in my judgement at least—interprets Scripture’s words in ways that words cannot.