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Mark 2:23-3:6

Pentecost 2, June 2, 20224

Holy Trinity Cathedral


“What About a Day of Rest?”

I could try and make you feel guilty about not keeping the sabbath.  Or I could try to help you find some holy time to rest and remember.  I suspect the second is more helpful, especially coming from a faith leader.  In the middle of all the rules, all the commitments- all the pressures of our go, go, go world- Jesus speaks to the heart of the matter.  The time we intentionally put aside to rest and remember is holy.  It is for the good of our bodies, minds, and souls.  You, and I, and everybody else on this planet benefits.

I have learned that when I go to the gym to work out that there are things called sets. I repeat an exercise a number of times (usually near the point when parts of my body are begging for mercy). Then I stop for a short period before I do the sequence again.  I have been instructed that these breathers are necessary for my muscles to recover: the blood pumps in more oxygen and pumps out the lactic acid.   If I do not rest between reps, my ability to carry on is greatly reduced.  Those dang weights feel twice as heavy the second or third time around!  But I have found that it is easy to misjudge a one minute breather- I believe more time has passed than actually has, and it is tempting to get going again before the rest has allowed my body to recover.  That has made me think about the pacing of my whole week: where I build in rests from the work that I do. 

It's difficult to have hard and fast rules about Sunday as the sabbath.  I understand.  After all, in my job, I have to show up for at least a couple of hours on a Sunday morning!  Although I worship with you in community, there’s a lot going on in the background that means it is not always a restful day.  But because the idea of sabbath rest is still important, I look to Jesus to understand how “the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). 

The origin about setting aside one day for rest goes back to the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament.  God gave Moses Ten Commandments to share with His chosen people.  Quite high up the list-number four- is to keep the seventh day of the week holy.   There are two very good reasons:  to remember and to follow God’s example.  In Deuteronomy chapter 5, the people are to remember both their own past as slaves who had no rest, and to remember that all who live with them- human, animal, and land- are to be included as part of community.  And in Exodus chapter 20, God’s people are to rest because God rested on the seventh day of creation.  Their identity as holy depends on the Law that defines them.  For Jews, abstaining from certain labours from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday sets them apart.  Over time, a lot of rules about what you can and can’t do came into being to interpret the 4th commandment.

This is why the religious leaders got so upset with Jesus.  They were in charge of ruling on the sabbath laws.  Then this young rabbi deliberately flouts their authority by demonstrating his own interpretation.  Jesus teaches that keeping the sabbath is good for something, but not just to prove you could follow a rule.  Sometimes sabbath is about remembering  that the spirit rather than the letter of the Law is more important.  Rest is about attending to the needs of the body, mind, and spirit:  sleep and food and healing.  These come about when we are attentive to what we need and what those around us need too.  Jesus takes the time to perceive what his companions need, and then finds a way to provide it for their wellbeing.  As Lord of the Sabbath, he shapes his work and rest for what God intends for creation.

Our world is out of balance in terms of the sabbath.  We deplete the land and ourselves by pushing production every waking moment.  We lose sleep worrying about what we are not doing, or what we are doing wrong.  And there is the expectation that others should be available at any moment: by cell phone, text, email.  Without paying attention to rest, we are pushed beyond our limits.  Hard rules don’t seem to be the answer because who can keep them all the time? 

I wonder if we have individualized our ideas of sabbath too much?  The Pharisees judged Jesus because he wasn’t personally fulfilling all the points of the Law, according to them.  What Jesus was doing in helping his disciples find food and helping an afflicted person find healing, is a more communal idea.  He is enabling others to regain their well-being and the capacity to remember and rest.  Maybe there are times when we can do this for each other.  Not everyone has to do the same thing at the same time.

Now this isn’t to say that having a designated time for rest isn’t important.  It’s good to keep a discipline of wellness that includes sleep and recreation, worship, and play.  It’s good to have Sunday as a day that is different in tone than the other six days of the week as we celebrate resurrection and come together in Christian community.  And there is benefit in trying to keep to a rhythm even when it means sacrifices like working a little more the day before.  Perhaps your capacity for being able to rest with God can be increased by depending on those around you who can spell you off from the commitments in your life.  Remember Jesus slipping away to pray in a lonely place at the times when he figured his disciples couldn’t get into too much trouble?

Let us ask the Lord of the Sabbath to show us ways that we can help each other to rest, and find rest ourselves, so that our bodies, minds, and spirits may be restored by the grace of God.  Amen.