I have always marvelled at how God’s word remains so far ahead of our ‘modern’ thinking. It shouldn’t really surprise us. Palm 139 reminds us that God has created us, so surely it follows that He would know what is best for us and why. In the account from Mark’s gospel Jesus tackles the subject of rest, relaxation and recuperation as He focuses on worship, healing and sustenance.
Modern science and wholistic practices reiterate the importance of rest and good sleep. When the body is deprived of sleep, it is unable to rebuild and recharge itself adequately. Our bodies require rest. I know that; you know that, but how good are we at responding to that? My family are now listening intently to what I will say next, for they know that this is an issue in my life and particularly so in recent years. The truth is that God has designated rest time into our lives. He designed a sabbath day to bless us with opportunity, to allow our souls to ‘return’ home to him and to remind us that life does not revolve around us and our level of productivity. But as usual, the Pharisees had taken hold of what God had decreed and sucked all the joy out of it. For the Pharisees, rules took centre stage. They controlled everything and if we are not careful we can easily follow their lead by creating our own. Once again, Jesus draws attention to a radical new way of living life. That relationship supersedes rules and religion every time and a healthy relationship with Father God must be a priority. He and his disciples had not broken the law, only the Pharisees interpretation of it and Jesus reminds them most strongly as to why it is there. We need to rest our bodies, recharge our batteries through relaxation – doing things we like to do and to recuperate our spirits by focussing on God.
Jesus affirmed his belief in a sabbath in a bold and direct way. He speaks boldly and directly to the religious leaders and His instruction to the man in the synagogue is bold and direct. ‘Come forward’- show yourself to be different. ‘Stretch out your hand’ – reach out to me.
The Sunday trading act of 1994 transformed the lives of every UK citizen overnight by fundamentally changing and creating a new work cycle. Sleepy, quiet, restful Sunday’s disappeared overnight. Did the sabbath day disappear with it? Only if we allow it. A sabbath day is meant to bless us, so for those of us who have to work on a Sunday, then we need to choose when we take it. For many, Sunday’s have had to become another day of the working week but whenever and wherever it is possible we still need to gather as church for this encourages us and those around us. This is not dependent upon whether I do a ‘good job’ or not, but upon us coming expectantly and at the disposal of the Holy Spirit to speak to us, strengthen and bless us. Giving him 80 minutes of your life once a week is a good start. God always makes a difference when we let Him, and He desires to make a difference for you and for me, that we might live our lives to the full and He knows exactly how to do that. A sabbath creates an opportunity for us to ‘hang out’ with God, unencumbered and pre-occupied with other ‘stuff’. Space to enjoy getting into the Bible; if you don’t think it’s possible to enjoy doing that then it’s probably a good sign that you need to.
A sabbath reminds us that life is not all about personal productivity and that God needs to be at the centre of our lives. It removes our autonomy and allows us to embrace our dependence upon our creator. It calls us to ‘Come forward’ and to ‘stretch out our hand’ to the one who made us that we might experience Him in all His fullness. Help me God to honour your gift and to receive all you have for me.
With the Lord’s blessing
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale