Come Away and Rest A While

“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.

Sabbath

What is the relationship between the following words: rest, cease, and seven? They all relate to the biblical notion of Sabbath, however, in the Hebrew of the Old Testament the relationship is even tighter since the each of these words are all based on the same root word. So throughout the Old Testament they form something of a word-play. The word “rest” sounds like the word “seven” which sounds like the word “Sabbath.”

With this in mind, God created the world in six days and on the seventh day rested or ceased from his labor. Later God will declare the seventh day a holy day and a day of rest for his people. This notion is so important that it finds a place in the Ten Commandments. In the Exodus version of the Ten Commandments, Sabbath grows out of in God’s creative activity:

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy (20:11 NIV).

However, in Deuteronomy’s version, Sabbath is more closely tied to the Israelites release for hard labor:

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day (5:15 NIV).

Jesus himself focuses the purpose of Sabbath-keeping more clearly, when he states,

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27–28 NIV).

In short, Jesus will clarify what should have already been clear. Humans need Sabbath and God instituted Sabbath for the good of humanity.

Later in the Bible, Sabbath becomes a way of talking about heaven. The writer of Hebrews teaches us,

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. (Hebrews 4:9–10 NIV).

This serves as a word of encouragement for us to hang in there to the end.

Still, we need Sabbath now. Increasingly, in our culture today, Sabbath is hard to come by. The time when we reserved Saturday or Sunday for worship and family time is gone. Therefore, Christians need more discipline at getting away from the hustle of every-day life. The work will be there when you get back and the benefits of Sabbath include clearer thinking, a stronger connection with God, and a calmer presence when we return to our work.