Liberating Rest

Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-3:6

May 31, 2024, Words By: Rev. Sarah Wiles, Image By: Unknown

Made Flesh

How are you?

Good. Busy. How about you?

Oh, you know, busy, busy! But good!

This may be the most frequent exchange I hear before and after worship each week. We know we’re too busy to breathe. We know this way of life is killing us and the earth. But we don’t know how to stop.

There is, of course, a commandment that might help:

“Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it…” (Exodus 20:8-10a)

To which our response is often, “Sure. That’s nice. But this is the real world.” We read the ten commandments as if there’s an asterisk by that one. *Does not apply to Christians.

After all, we’re saved by grace, right? Not law. And Jesus agreed. That’s what this passage in Mark is about, right? There’s no point in following a law just for the sake of the law. Here’s Jesus proving that very thing. After all, what’s more soul-killing than legalism?

It does seem like the rules are prone to multiply on the sabbath. It’s supposed to be simple. No work. But it gets complicated. What counts as work? Is it just what we’re paid for? What about care work? Yard work? Work we enjoy?

Jewish culture has taken this question seriously for millennia, and over time they came up with thirty-nine kinds of work. Thirty-nine categories of things that are prohibited. The restrictions multiply from there. To an outsider it can seem absurd.

Maybe sometimes to an insider as well. It may have seemed absurd to Jesus that day. Hunger and healing trumped the restrictions in this story. Which is a good caution. Anything that we consider too sacred to be used for life, too special to be soiled in the use of helping another—maybe we should reconsider our relationship with it.

But it seems to me that when it comes to time, we’ve swung to the other side. Are there any sacred times left in our lives?

Maybe what we need to glean first from Jesus’ example is not his critique, but the fact that he observed the sabbath faithfully. Yes, he healed people and fed people on the sabbath. Yes, he pushed the boundaries. But that does not mean it became a day like any other day for him.

Throughout his ministry Jesus was regularly in the synagogue on the sabbath—sometimes teaching, sometimes arguing, but always there, setting aside the day as sacred. Even after his death, his followers observed the sabbath before they came to anoint his body. We jump so quickly to critique of the sabbath that we entirely miss Jesus’ commitment to it.

So maybe we should take a second look at this consecration of time thing. Really, on the face of it, what’s not to like? Take a day off. For no other reason than God said so, and if it’s good enough for God, it should be good enough for us.

But rest can be disconcerting. Enforced rest in the midst of a too full schedule can sometimes feel like slamming to a stop on a ride at the fair—we’re nauseated and disoriented. Who am I if I’m not doing all these other things? What do I do with myself? Do I even exist if I’m not sending email and answering the phone? Stopping is no small thing.

Sabbath is a reminder that we are not what we do. I can’t think of something we need more right now when the value of everything and everyone is measured by what they can produce. Sabbath is a divine “No” to all of that. And a divine “Yes” to true life, abundant life.

On the sabbath, we are fed. We are healed. We rest. No more and no less. Because the sabbath is a gift made for us.

Dwelling Among Us

If this is a gift God still wishes to give to us, what shape might it take in our lives?

How would a day off change the shape of your week? A day off from work, and commerce, and doing anything that kills your soul? What would that look like?

About The Author

Rev. Sarah Wiles