‘Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God’ is all very well in ‘normal’ circumstances. But from the conversations I’m having with many people, the days are all blurring into one. Much the same work, rest or boredom (depending on circumstances and perspective!) every day. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been finding it hard to find ‘sabbath’ in these strange days. Many of those things I’d usually do on my rest day have been off limits: a walk to a pub for a pint (or two), a trip to see family, a day out with friends, a visit to a National Trust property.
A change is as good as a rest, but that is precisely the thing we haven’t been able to do of late: change the daily record. And now, paradoxically we are facing a new set of changes in the coming weeks: some children returning to school, non-essential shops re-opening and further easing of the lockdown. And although we haven’t been able to change the daily record, what I’m hearing is that we sure have changed our way through a raft of emotions on a daily basis: from excitement (all those books you were going to read) to frustration (all those books you haven’t read…), from loneliness to overwhelmed and from calm and accepting to, well, less calm, possibly involving a little cry or a large glass of wine, or both! In the midst of all this it’s difficult for many of us to find Sabbath, to find rest.
Sabbath is really important. The clue is that it’s one of the 10 commandments. But it isn’t important just ‘because God said so’. It’s important because it’s for our wellbeing. In the mythical creation story, God finishes the work of creation in six days and then creates Sabbath – rest, refreshment, restoration – on the seventh day. It’s built into creation, for us. Jesus himself says, ‘the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath’ (Mark 2.27). The Sabbath isn’t there to give us something else to do, to guilt trip us into tuning into church ‘because we should’, or to feeling bad because we haven’t made space for ourselves, our loved ones, our hobbies (remember all that reading?) or God. Sabbath is there to give us permission to find rest in these things when we can. Permission to waste time being me. For that is Sabbath – to waste time being me. And in doing so to be with the God who loves you as you are.
The archetypal story of the Old Testament, the Exodus, is a story of restoring Sabbath. In Egypt, God’s people had no rest. Time was pyramids and the Israelites were cogs in Pharaoh’s machine. This wasn’t what was meant for God’s people. So God rescued them and gave them the Ten Commandments, including the one about the Sabbath. Later, the prophets had to remind the people of this. When they paid lip-service to the commandments by going through the motions on the Sabbath, when they looked to Egypt or one of the other great powers for protection, the prophets reminded them that they had been saved for rest. ‘For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength (Isaiah 30.15).
Meanwhile, the New Testament is about the restoration of true Sabbath. Jesus rests in the grave on the Sabbath day and returns to his disciples on the first day of the week to wish them the rest of heaven (‘peace be with you’ John 20.19). In a world of the false security of filling every minute with your own timetable, or someone else’s timetable, Jesus’s word is peace. Stop. Have permission to be you. Sometimes that is easier said than done but be encouraged to find the space to enjoy wasting time being you with the God who loves you as you are. With a hobby, with a book, with friends and loved ones (within the limits of the current guidelines!) in prayer, in online worship. Don’t beat yourself up that the days feel the same. Don’t beat yourself up that you feel anxious about the changes to come. Find some ways to say, ‘this is Sabbath, and it is good’.
With my love and prayers for you,
All Saints Vicarage
Feast of Lanfranc, Archbishop of Canterbury, 28th May 2020
This Sunday at All Saints
9.30am Video Eucharist for Pentecost. Head to our online services page to join in, to find the order of service and for more resources.
10.30am Zoom coffee and catch up, invite via our mailing list. (To join the mailing list, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org)