A Time for...
A Time For Rest - Week 2
Readings: Exodus 20:8-11, Mark 6:30-32
Sermon Date: April 10th 2016
Notes by: Simon Butler
If you are familiar with the Commandments in the Book of Common Prayer you’ll know the line:
"Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all that thou hast to do; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no manner of work, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, thy cattle, and the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it."
It’s an almost direct quotation of Exodus 20:8-11 which itself recalls something of the creation story in Genesis.
It’s a good point to start our conversation about rest.
How do you naturally respond to this passage quoted as a command?
Impossible to keep in modern life
Or something else?
What about the notion of rest as a command?
Is it a bit like a command to take vitamin tablets, not necessarily something that you want to do, but something that is good for you all the same?
It’s fair to say that for many centuries in both middle-eastern and western culture the command served as a tool to make sure people went to church! The seventh day was seen as God’s rest day and rest for his people naturally meant going to church at least once. Rest then became intimately tied up with sacred time, perhaps with the sometimes subtle inference that the remainder of the week, the ‘work’ time, was less than sacred in some senses. A wedge was driven that largely remains…
The idea of rest, or as we’ll call it in this session ‘Sabbath’ is of great relevance to us in 21st Century western life. It’s an enormously fruitful place to look to enrich our understanding of the nature of God, and how our lives might mirror his life.
To do so well we must first shed the notion that mankind is created for the Sabbath, or to put it another way ‘rest commanded as an enforced break from work for religious observance’
Let’s turn to a snippet from Mark chapter 2:
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
In this passages Jesus comments on what had become a stifling religious tradition. With a whole network of supporting laws governing what counted as work and was therefore not permitted on the Sabbath, the tradition had long ceased to be something that gave life and rest, and although being a day on which ‘non-religious’ work was not permitted, was a day of quite intensive religious work instead! Rest was equated with giving God his dues.
As ever Jesus intention is to ensure that what was given by God as a gift to man-kind, for man-kinds sake, remained as just that.
As well as talking the talk, Jesus of course walked the walk as we see in our reading from Mark 6:30-32:
"30 The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. 31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
32 So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place."
Having been serving the crowds, teaching and talking, and in the face of unceasing demand, Jesus acknowledges his and the disciples need for rest and so off they go…
In what ways do you see rest as a gift from God?
What does the invitation to rest say about the nature and person of God and his desires for us?
Do you find it easy to make time for rest?
Do you feel free to enjoy rest or do you secretly feel guilty for not being busy?
Thinking a bit more deeply about the principle of Sabbath:
On one level we can think about Sabbath rest as simply a time away from work. A time in which to be refreshed and perhaps a time to engage in corporate worship. Something that is not given because God likes to give rules, but because in his providential kindness God gives us what we need to live well and live fully.
This is fine, but it’s not even scratching the surface of ‘Sabbath’. There is so much more here and it is this that is probably truly transformative in the whirlwind that is modern 21st Century life. It’s worth recognizing that there are many strands to understanding Sabbath within the Christian church and here we will pick out just one…
Let’s go a bit deeper…
The eagle eyed will have noticed that the command to keep the Sabbath comes twice in the Old Testament. Once in Exodus, where the context is one of creation. And once in Deuteronomy, where the context is one of redemption. It is important that the command to rest is found in both these contexts – God is the creator and redeemer (in an ongoing sense) and Sabbath rest is caught up in both creation and redemption as ongoing activities.
Let’s look at the pattern that emerges from the creation account in Genesis 1. To make the point again, the creation account isn’t designed to read like a text book, it’s not a scientific description of the events that took place, rather it serves to underline the fact that God created an ordered cosmos and that God relates to his creation in love.
God starts to create. God finishes creating. When creation is complete God rests.
Why did God rest? Was he tired? Presumably not! Was it so that he could go to church? As far as I know, not. Karl Barth suggests that:
“The reason that God refrains from further activity on the seventh day is that he has found the object of his love and has no need of any further works”. (Dogmatics, Doctrine of Creation)
If rest comes from finding the object of our love…what does this mean to us as Christians?
Rest becomes far more than ceasing from activity and in particular work. Rest becomes instead a condition of the heart and mind, a way of life. Something far deeper and more meaningful than just having a day off.
In his book on the Sabbath Abraham Heschel describes it like this:
“...A place in time with a kingdom for all. It is not a date but an atmosphere. It is not a different state of consciousness, but a different climate”
So long as we’ve found the object of our love…Jesus words captured in the first commandment spring to mind perhaps: ‘Love the Lord yor God with all your heart and mind and soul and strength’?
So if Sabbath rest is actually not about taking a day off from work, does it still have any relationship to work at all? And if so what?
Here’s a bit more Karl Barth:
“What Sabbath forbids him is not work, but trust in his work” (From Dogmatics, the Doctrine of Creation)
If Sabbath rest is found in meeting the object of our love, and Christ is the object of our love, then it is possible to experience Sabbath rest even whilst we are working hard, because in the midst of work we can meet Christ.
Sabbath becomes a new way of working as well as a new way of living. Sabbath becomes about entering a deeper covenant with the object of our love and acknowledging his unique role in creating and redeeming this world of which we are a part.
It is possible, indeed even wise, to work hard but whilst working hard to not put undue trust or faith in our work. After-all, even if our work contributes towards the ongoing sustaining of creation and the outworking of Gods plans of redemption, the initiative and accomplishing of both are located in Him alone and our work is a response to his invitation to get involved.
In this context having a ‘Sabbath’ day loses none of it’s importance. A marked day of rest as part of the rhythm of our lives reminds us of our need to live Sabbath each and every day in the midst of work. It is a day on which our ‘normal’ state of heart and mind receives particular attention and is highlighted and confirmed in our lives. The Sabbath day is an embodiment of the general state of our hearts and minds. Hearts and minds which have ‘found their rest in God and so ceased to be restless’. (Augustine of Hippo)
Sabbath and compassion and Justice
Finally, one important thing to notice is that on the occasions when Jesus gets into trouble for breaking the command not to work on the Sabbath, he asks his critics some questions which basically say: ‘Should we stop doing good on the Sabbath if it looks like work?’
Jesus seems to be making a point, that the Sabbath is a time for compassion and justice – healing, providing food etc in the Gospel narratives. Sabbath is a time when the call to do right by others is heeded and acknowledged. A concern for justice and living compassionately s part and parcel of Sabbath living.
Perhaps it would be helpful to identify ways in which our daily lives of discipleship might be nourished by what we’ve thought and prayed over?
What might we want to change in order to more fully live ‘sabbath’ each and every day?
And finally spend some time praying through the conversations and reflections in this session.