Sabbath

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. -Exodus 20:8-11

Something about the month of June always makes me feel ready to take a rest. The school year comes to an end, and student and teachers alike rejoice at the last day of the semester. In Iowa, the planting season comes to an end, and farmers rest while seeds germinate and grow. In the Church, the season of festivals comes to an end, and worshippers settle into the long green “Season After Pentecost,” sometimes called “Ordinary Time.”

As Christians, we have a special relationship with the idea of rest: God calls it Sabbath. God offers Sabbath to the people of God as both gift and command. Out of every seven days, God says, one should be set aside for rest. What’s more, says God, the day of rest isn’t just for the well-off, but for everyone: adults and children, slaves and immigrants. Even the donkey should get a day off!

The idea of Sabbath runs counter to our culture of side hustles and 24-7 availability. Many of us were taught that our value lies in what we accomplish or that hard work is its own reward. God, contrary to our constant work, work, work, shows us the example and gives us the command to rest. Not the kind of rest where you’re just going to fold that load of laundry while you watch a movie, but the kind of rest where you truly do nothing but refresh your spirit. 

The kind of rest you get in a hammock, for instance. Have you ever tried to bring your work with you into a hammock? Trust me, it does not work. At best, the hammock gets crowded and uncomfortable. At worst, that hammock flips and unceremoniously dumps its occupant and all their stuff out on the ground. You cannot multitask in a hammock. You cannot multitask a Sabbath, either. The Sabbath is “holy,” or, in other words, “set apart for something special.” It can’t be multi-tasked AND specially set apart. Sabbath is for rest and restoration.

When did you last take a whole day out of a week to do only things that refresh your spirit? When did you last keep the Sabbath? Maybe June can be a reminder month for you as it is for me, that we all need rest. Maybe you can lay in a hammock, listening to the birds and watching the clouds float past, giving thanks to God for Sabbath.

God of rest, thank you for the gift of Sabbath. Help me to rest when I need it, and to see a rhythm of rest and work as your good and holy plan for human flourishing. Amen.

 



Ascension Day

Ascension Day is one of those days on the liturgical calendar that doesn’t often get its due. It’s always 40 days after Easter— which means that it’s always on a Thursday. And, well, Thursdays in May are pretty busy for most of us, most of the time. Ascension Day is important, though— so important that we include it in the Apostle’s Creed: “…he ascended into heaven…”

But what’s the big deal? Well, here’s the story as it’s recorded in Luke 22: 44-53:

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; and they were continually in the temple blessing God.

For many Christians, Easter is the climax of the Jesus story: death was defeated once and for all in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. And this is indeed really good news! Each of us needs to hear this hope, that because of the resurrection, we too will have new life. Stopping at Easter, though, means we miss the rest of the story. After forty days of teaching and eating and fishing with the disciples, Jesus, in the flesh, ascended into heaven.

This is a really big deal. Jesus, in his body marked with scars, was raised into the full presence of God. In case you don’t remember, there were a lot of rules about who and what could be in God’s presence, all of which boiled down to: nothing less than perfect and holy could endure God’s presence. Simply being near to God was liable to end in destruction of anything or anyone unworthy. And on Ascension Day we remember that Jesus Christ incarnate ascended into heaven in a body that had endured hunger, thirst, abuse, torture, and even death. 

Ascension Day stands in opposition to the messages that tell us that our bodies aren’t good enough. Jesus Christ, God in a body, took his full embodied self into heaven. God isn’t just interested in preserving our spirits, but instead in restoring our whole selves to everlasting life. Ascension Day reminds us that our bodies are not husks to be discarded, but part of God’s good creation, equally included in God’s mercy and redemption. 

May this Ascension Day be a reminder to you that your body is part of God’s good creation, warts and scars and all.