Friday, December 16, 2011

From epitaph to hymn to epitaph

The marker at the grave of Margaret J. Thomas (d. 1877) is a draped pedestal topped by an open book. Considering this monument stands in a churchyard cemetery and bears references to Jesus on its face, surmising that the book is meant to be a Bible is not unreasonable.

he giveth his beloved sleep.
AUG. 8, 1877:
Aged 26 Yrs.
9 Ms. 8 Ds.
Asleep in Jesus, blessed sleep
From which none ever wakes to weep
A calm and undisturbed repost
Unbroken by the last of foes.

The epitaph is the first verse from the hymn “Asleep in Jesus, Blessed Sleep,” written by Margaret Mackay (b. 1802, d. 1887), a native of Scotland.

It is written that Mrs. Mackay once visited a chapel cemetery in Devonshire, England where she noticed a gravestone with the simple words “Sleeping in Jesus.” According to Nicholas Smith writing in Songs from the Hearts of Women (1903), “the expressive inscription and the impressive stillness of the scene gave birth to the hymn.”

Asleep in Jesus! Blessèd sleep,
From which none ever wakes to weep;
A calm and undisturbed repose,
Unbroken by the last of foes.

Asleep in Jesus! Oh, how sweet,
To be for such a slumber meet,
With holy confidence to sing
That death has lost his venomed sting!

Asleep in Jesus! Peaceful rest,
Whose waking is supremely blessed;
No fear, no woe, shall dim that hour
That manifests the Savior’s power.

Asleep in Jesus! Oh, for me
May such a blessèd refuge be!
Securely shall my ashes lie
And wait the summons from on high.

Asleep in Jesus! time nor space
Debars this precious “hiding place”;
On Indian plains or Lapland snows
Believers find the same respose.

Asleep in Jesus! Far from thee
Thy kindred and their graves may be;
But there is still a blessèd sleep,
From which none ever wakes to weep.

Liberty Church Cemetery, Delaware County, Ohio

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