In the context of Luke, Simeon was clearly referring to his own death: he had waited in the temple to see the Messiah until he was an old man. Now that he had seen him, he can “depart in peace.”
Does it seem strange, or even a little morbid, to be praying about death as we go to sleep? Perhaps it is, but it is a prayer worth praying nonetheless.
When we fall asleep each night, we enter into a death-like state. We become unaware and completely vulnerable. And this is not optional. We cannot skip sleep just because we feel afraid. Refusing to sleep will eventually cause us to really die — anyone who has experienced extended sleeplessness knows first-hand its destructive power. So every day we must symbolically die in order to live.
God built this into the pattern of our lives. Every day we must become vulnerable and dependent. We must give up our self-sufficiency, productivity, and any illusions we have of invincibility. If we refuse to do so, then we will be destroyed by our rebellion against God’s rhythm of life. Every day we must fully entrust ourselves to him. As the old children’s prayer puts it:
It is very much worth noting that God built sleep into the pattern of human life from creation. This image of death, even of death being necessary for our survival, and the reminder of our feeble reliance on God himself, existed before humanity’s fall in Genesis 3. Ponder for a while what the theological implications of that might be.
Or for more theological reflection, consider the Compline’s statement that Jesus by his death & burial did “sanctify the grave.” Did Jesus’s death really turn the very symbol of our sin and curse into a holy place? The Apostle John seemed to think so, considering how he depicted Mary Magdalene peering into the Holy of Holies as she looked into Jesus’s grave.
Pondering death before sleeping might feel a bit morbid, but it is certainly appropriate and by no means unnecessary. We can do nothing better at a day’s end than praise God for his faithfulness in the day past, anticipate his faithfulness the coming day, and confess our faith that God will be raise us from the grave in the same way that he raises us from our symbolic death every morning.
Other prayers from the Compline illustrate this same faith:
And perhaps most of all, Psalm 4.8 as quoted in the conclusion of the Compline:
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus; be with us this night and forever, we pray.