A friend of mine returned from a vacation during which he and his family had traveled far to visit relatives. Somebody made the comment that my friend didn't appear to be very rested, despite the fact that he'd been gone for two weeks. "You wouldn't be too rested either," he said, "if all you did was drive for two weeks. I feel like I need another vacation." We all had a good laugh at my friend's sense of humor.
I couldn't help but wonder how many of us spend just about all of whatever precious free time we have just driving, just catching up on the laundry, on the newspapers that have piled up unread through the week, on the lives of the children. By the time we return to the world of Monday, we wish it could be Friday so that perhaps we could get some rest. It's a vicious circle, because by the time the weekend comes around again, the clothes hamper shall be just as full as it was last weekend, and the newspapers will be piled up waiting to be read, and the children will be wondering why we haven't spent enough time with them lately. So we just drag our feet and wish the week away until it's finally Friday. But still we hope each succeeding weekend will be different.
When we turn back the pages of time, and of scripture, and read the creation story in Genesis 1, we find the Lord God, after creating the heavens and the earth stepping back to survey the glorious work of creation and exclaiming, "This is very good " Having said that, he took the seventh day off, resting from the overwhelming work of creating. Apparently, the Lord God really enjoyed that day off, because He decided that humankind should reap the benefit of time away from the burdens of work. Daily work should be set aside on a regular basis by all of us so that when we must work, we can maintain higher levels of interest and productivity. Refreshment of both body and soul was so important to God that he called it Sabbath, and blessed such time by stamping it "holy." Rest is holy. Renewal is essential and sacred for continued alertness and good attitude. We break God's law when we deprive ourselves of such opportunities for renewal and the healing power of time off. The ministry of Jesus is full of examples of how Sabbath time could benefit us all.
Jesus and his disciples were making their way through a grain field one day when the disciples decided to pluck some of the grain and eat it because it was the only food available to them at that moment. The ancient laws of the Old Testament were rigid concerning Sabbath observance. Food which would be eaten on that day was to have been prepared the day before. But Jesus had come to make life easier by fulfilling those old laws so that they no longer proved a burden to the people of God. So, in the custody of his protective grace, the disciples were permitted to pluck the heads of grain and eat them. The Pharisees in this encounter represent human resistance to God's grace by their unyielding determination to hold onto the strict observance of the letter of a law that required change. Its true meaning and holiness was buried beneath their human and legalistic interpretation of the laws of Sabbath rest and holiness. Jesus knew that his followers were hungry and that hunger recognizes only the need for satisfaction, regardless of the day.
Later, in the synagogue during worship, Jesus knew that the man with the arthritic hand would not be permitted to stay there in his present state. He had already said that the Sabbath was made for humankind. Now, in the presence of the Pharisees, he proved it by curing the withered hand, knowing that this miracle that provided relief to a suffering individual, and other incidents like it would cost him his life because human nature resists grace and pardon and even healing.
In spite of the rapid pace of life as we approach the next millennium, God still extends to us the invitation to seek proper rest and holy reflection. That is why Jesus and his disciples went from grain field to synagogue, from feeding the body to feeding the spirit. Jesus created disturbance because he wanted life to change so that the people of God would not be smothered by laws, but embraced by grace and renewal. Surely, given the old laws about uncleanness, the man with the arthritic hand must have created disruption on his own by entering the synagogue where, because of his broken state, he would be denied any participation in the worship. Instead of being hostile, the Pharisees should have rejoiced when Jesus healed the man, thus making him acceptable even to them. Jesus had come to fulfill the law by extending grace and mercy and nourishment. But in his day, as in ours, most people who cannot accept things they don't understand, often reject such things out of hand. Many do not accept pardoning grace and forgiveness and restful peace through Christ Jesus because it's too good and too impossible to be real. Yet there is no other name under heaven, and no other way to complete renewal and healing and hope except through the one who grants us permission to eat and to find healing and restoration, not only on Sabbath days, but on all days.
Time away from our normal daily tasks is a gift from God, to be cherished for its own sake, and for its opportunities for rest. Attending church with family and friends can help instill a certain holiness to the time of rest and renewal. Hearing how God in Christ Jesus reaches out in loving compassion to feed our souls and bodies with His presence and relieve our bruises both physical and mental with His touch will both bless and enrich us.
Keeping the day of rest holy includes worship and prayer and praise and rest from what is done on other days of the week. May we all seek such time and find our bodies and our souls restored. Amen.