Music of the Month: Rest for the Weary

This piece by Benjamin M. Culli paints a beautiful image of heaven. Arranged for SATB and piano, Culli treats the text with a lyrical tune and supportive piano accompaniment. The piece builds and modulates in the middle section, then finishes quietly in the original key. “Rest for the Weary” is a moving selection for multiple portions of the Church Year, including All Saints’ Day. 

Rediscovering the text

“Rest for the Weary” features three stanzas of the hymn “A Rest Remaineth for the Weary,” written by Johann Sigismund Kunth (1700–1779). Four stanzas of the hymn were translated to English in The Lutheran Hymnal (number 615), set to the tune WIE WOHL IST MIR, and the hymn has appeared in only two English-language Lutheran hymnals in total.

Stanza 1: The Church Triumphant

In The Lutheran Hymnal, the hymn appears in the section “Life Everlasting,” and includes Hebrews 4:9 as a thematic text: “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” The text is especially appropriate for occasions such as funerals and All Saints’ Day. Stanza 1 especially depicts the Church Triumphant and the saints who have passed from the valley of sorrows to life eternal:

A rest remains for all the weary;
Arise, sad heart, and grieve no more;
Though long the way, and dark and dreary,
It opens to the golden shore.
Before His throne the Lamb will lead you,
On heav’nly pastures He will feed you,
Cast off your burden, come with haste;
Soon toil and strife will be unraveled,
The weary way that you have traveled,
Sweet is the rest that you will taste.

This first stanza is chock full of images and texts meant to give comfort to those mourning the death of a Christian. The golden shore and green pastures greet the weary soul who has labored through dark and dreary toil and strife—and now tastes the sweet rest of eternal life with the Lamb in His Kingdom. Culli’s melody is set in D-flat major and features a trio of delicate sixths, sung in unison, at the outset before splitting into four-part harmony.

Stanza 2: The Father’s House

The second stanza focuses on Jesus’ words from John 14:2: “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Kunth’s text assumes the voice of our heavenly Father welcoming the faithfully departed into the place He has prepared:

The Father’s house has manyˬa dwelling,
And there for you a place will be.
With perfect love His heart is welling
Who loved you from eternity.
His precious blood the Lamb has given
That you may share the joys of heaven,
And now He calls out far and near:
“You weary souls, cast off your sorrow;
My light shines bright upon the morrow.
Come, sweetest rest awaits you here!”

What great comfort these words give to the Christian in the midst of the sorrows of death—that Christ, who has prepared insurmountable joys for His people from the foundations of the world, has shed His blood so that sinners would inherit eternal heaven! These words also strengthen the faith of the Church Militant. The blood that was given on the cross is poured upon our lips every time we gather at the Lord’s house for the Divine Service. Heaven comes down to earth even now—the fruits of His earthly throne, the cross, are present at the altar—and we experience a foretaste of the unending feast with all the departed saints around the heavenly throne.

Stanza 3: Perfect Rest 

The final stanza conveys the Christian’s hope for eternal life, even while mourning the death of Christ’s saints. This is an ever-needed reminder that the bliss of heaven that we know our departed loved ones now enjoy is also ours:

There rest and peace in endless measure
Will be ours through eternity;
No grief, no care, will mar our pleasure,
And untold joy our lot will be.
Oh, had we wings to hasten yonder—
No more this sinful world to ponder—
To join the glad, triumphant band!
Arise, my soul, forget all sadness,
For peace awaits you, joy and gladness—
The perfect rest and promised land.

Culli’s setting beautifully illustrates this text. The stanza begins with the same melody as the first two, but eventually modulates from G major to E-flat major and back to the original D-flat major as the melodic line soars with the text “Oh, had we wings to hasten yonder” and comes to a meditative conclusion at the text “For peace awaits you …”

SATB church choirs will find the rediscovery of this stirring text rewarding as they give voice to Culli’s new and refreshing musical setting. Perhaps this piece could be a staple for a choir that has the tradition of singing at each of its parish’s funerals, and if a choir doesn’t regularly sing at funerals, this piece could provide a starting point for developing a musical repertoire for funerals. It’s a blessed thing for the church to sing with all God’s saints—both those here and departed—now and forever in eternity.


Order Benjamin Culli’s setting of “Rest for the Weary”

Get the SATB setting


 

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Written by

Nathan Grime

Nathan Grime is from Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is a 2020 graduate of Hillsdale College, where he studied rhetoric, public address, and journalism. Currently, Nathan is the organist and Kantor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Hillsdale, Michigan.

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