The New Sabbath
Written by Sarah Locke, Pastor of Hickory United Methodist Church in Chesapeake, VA.
“Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’” – Mark 2:24-28
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” – Matthew 11: 29
For people who have spent more time in our home this year than every before, I cannot say that I am “well rested.” The demands of family, church, work, and the regular routine have not ceased – they have just morphed. I have found it harder than ever to find a way to feel rested. The things that have always worked – a day of binging Netflix, a walk in the park with our kids, a date night with my husband – they all used to be things that left me feeling rejuvenated and ready to face the world. And now I wake up after a “day off” still weary. Can I get an Amen?
I think as Christ followers, there are times we hear Sabbath and all we hear is a biblical mandate to take a day off and simply to do no work. Sabbath is just about a “day off” or a “vacation” right? We think this because while God had every resource and all the energy needed to create the whole world, and as scripture promises God never sleeps or slumbers on the job, God still took a break. On the 7th day of creation, God called the day holy and did no work. And so, we see the command to practice the Sabbath as just that. A command that while sounding nice doesn’t mean all that much in our modern world.
As a mom of 5, a wife, a pastor, and a person highly influenced to over work and under rest this command often feels unrealistic. And then COVID hit and in my optimism, I thought, okay quarantine. Take this. I will name you Sabbath and I will come out the other side healthier. If God rested so can I.
Now 11 months later, I would say that while I have done many of the “right” things, I am wearier than ever. And for many of us that is the case. We have survived one of the hardest years of most of our lives. And the resources that used to work just do not anymore. A day off does not prepare me for the other 6. And here is why: Because my resting is not what powers my life.
In Mark, we see Jesus taking some heat from the Pharisees who feel that Jesus’ rule-breaking tendencies are not honoring the commandment to keep the day holy. Jesus has been healing folks on the Sabbath. Jesus’ response is simple: Sabbath is not a commandment to get us to bend to the will of another, but, instead, the day of rest which was made for us. It is a gift. And gifts are not something we can give ourselves. Sabbath is experience of the Lord’s presence or grace in our lives in spite of our inability to sit still well. The commandment of Sabbath is simply SO that we can experience the grace and love God has always wanted to offer us.
One of the many problems that we have experienced in COVID is that our work has changed. And while we may not be commuting and our time has been spent differently, the internal work of navigating the world has gotten more intense. Our emotions have been tested, our relationships have been strained, physical connections have been broken, we have been more isolated, experienced greater anxiety, and heightened fear. And while Netflix and walks help quiet our minds for a few moments or hours they don’t stop the chaos that lives with-in. There is only one source of Sabbath- there is only one source of peace and rest and it requires that I place myself in the presence of the Lord.
Jesus is the fulfillment of the Sabbath. Jesus offers us a picture not of a God that simply takes a nap, but instead offers to carry our burdens. Jesus offers to yoke himself to us. That is the gift. We will not carry this alone. Rest is not a lack of work; it is instead a change from trying to carry the load ourselves. When we are yoked to Christ, we can experience the lightening of that the heavy load of fear, anxiety, and loneliness we have been carrying. We can know that those things we drag along behind us will not overwhelm us or leave us stuck in the mud. Jesus becomes the power of our rest. The old ways don’t work because they never really did. The only rest we need is to place ourselves in the path of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who has been called “Lord of the Sabbath.” Amen.