The first stanza begins with my most pressing need: rest. I am “weary and worn and sad,” battered by the world, by work, by relationships, by senselessness and violence and misunderstanding. The struggle seems never ending.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Come unto Me and rest; Lay down, thou weary one, lay down thy head upon My breast.” I came to Jesus as I was, weary and worn and sad; I found in Him a resting place, and He has made me glad.
It’s telling that the rest offered is to lean on Jesus. In my case at least, the exhausting struggle that seems never ending is the struggle of my will against God’s will. I tell myself that my exhaustion comes from the exigencies of the outside world, and some of it does, certainly; but most of it is the result of my insistence on my own way and refusal to accept God’s peace when it is offered. What I need is death to myself. And death is the ultimate rest.
The hymn progresses from rest to revivification, from death to resurrection.
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “Behold, I freely give the living water; thirsty one, stoop down, and drink, and live.” I came to Jesus, and I drank of that life giving stream; My thirst was quenched, my soul revived, and now I live in Him.
My goal is not just to rest, but to rest for a purpose: to be revived and to live in Jesus. What will I do with my new life, with the living water flowing through me and in me?
I heard the voice of Jesus say, “I am this dark world’s Light; Look unto Me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy day be bright.” I looked to Jesus, and I found in Him my Star, my Sun; And in that light of life I’ll walk, till traveling days are done.
I’ll travel, in the light and to the Light. If the rest mentioned in the first stanza was death, and the water in the second was resurrection, then the light of the third stanza is the Kingdom of Heaven. I still have traveling to do – I haven’t arrived – but I am walking in the light of life; I am part of the Kingdom.
This hymn, though, not only outlines the individual Christian’s experience of death, resurrection, and the life of faith. When we switch from first person singular to first person plural, from “I” to “we,” the hymn offers a picture of what the church should be. If the church is the Body of Christ, then “our” relationship with the church in some way ought to reflect “my” relationship with Jesus.
So we have to consider: Does the church call us to rest from the world’s sin and to die to our own sin, through penitence, by grace? Does it revive us by offering the water of life, through baptism, the word, and the sacraments? Does it set us on the road that we are to walk until traveling days are done?
If it does, then it is the Body of Christ. If it doesn’t, then at best it is Vanity Fair and at worst it is drudgery, poison, and darkness.
This is the life of faith. Come; rest, drink, and see. Go; go in peace, to love and serve the Lord.
Thanks be to God.