“Come away to a deserted place
all by yourselves and rest a while”
(Jesus in Mark 6:31 NRSV)
Modern people live hectic lives. So hectic even our vacations leave us more exhausted than the jobs from which we are seeking a break. Study after study reports that Americans are overworked, overstressed, overweight, overextended, and overtired.
While there may be many complex reasons for this situation and by no means am I offering a single fix-it-all solution, but one spiritual discipline that holds out promise toward a solution would be a rediscovery of Sabbath. There was a time not so long ago when Sabbath was a value embedded in our society. Perhaps quaint now, we once believed that Sunday was a “Sabbath” on which work was not to be done unless absolutely necessary. Youth sporting events would never be allowed on this sacred day. Even Wednesday evenings when churches met for prayer and Bible study was granted a quasi-sacred respect. Those days are gone and I’m not altogether disappointed in seeing the quirkier blue laws related to this holy culture set aside, however . . .
However in losing all of what Sabbath once was, we have lost what we now need the most: time for rest.
The biblical story is punctuated with the human need for Sabbath. Sabbath is an interesting word in Hebrew that looks like both the word “rest” and “seven.” So it was an easy association between the need for rest and the seventh day. Even the creation story was told to climax in God resting on the seventh day. The Old Testament has two takes on why the ancient people of Israel should rest at the end of every week. First, based on the creation story, God did (Exodus 20:8-11). Second, however, was that the Israelites had once been slaves, thus forced to work every day, and now God had set them free. Resting then was a symbol of being free (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
Ironically by the time of the New Testament, Sabbath had become a burden rather than a blessing. Jesus challenged the religious leaders of the day for turning Sabbath into a test of orthodoxy for separating the faithful from the irreligious. Jesus intentionally did his ministry and miracles on the Sabbath and more than once did the powers confront him. In each case Jesus would rebuff them with sayings like
“Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath? … Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:10–12).
Or in another place,
“The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27–28).
Jesus sought to restore Sabbath as a good thing for people. Consistent with this Jesus once invited his busy disciples to “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” (Mark 6:31)
We invite you to come rest a while with us through this season of Lent.
Copied from my article in our church newsletter at http://www.fcchammond.org/FEBOUTLOOK2013.aspx.