Then Jesus said,
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.
Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart,
and you will find rest for your souls.
For my yoke is easy to bear,
and the burden I give you is light.”
Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)
In the first book of the Bible we read the story of Creation. We learn that after completing the work of Creation in six days, God rested on the seventh day. (Genesis 1 and 2)
The Torah phrases it like this, “On the seventh day God finished the work… and ceased from all the work… and God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation…”
On the seventh day God finished the work… the ancient rabbis interpreted that to mean that on the seventh day, God created “rest”… the final work of creation.
The Hebrew word that is used here is menuchah, and “rest” is an inadequate translation. It is so much more. It is a “rest of love freely given…of truth and sincerity… of peace and tranquility, quietude and safety.”1
Shabbat menuchah – A Sabbath (rest) of rest (love freely given, truth and sincerity, peace and tranquility, quietude and safety).
I’d like some of that.
On the seventh day God set aside an entire day to stop working (creating), and to delight in creation (which includes ME… God delights in me).
On the seventh day I am invited to delight in my own life, and in my own place in creation, and above all – to delight in the Creator.
This rhythm of Sabbath rest is built into creation.
The rhythm of day into night and night into morning…
The rhythm of seasons… the awakening and growth of Spring and Summer into the the rest of Autumn and Winter.
The tidal rhythms of the sea and the sun and moon…
Even the rhythms of our own bodies – cycles and aging and the perceptible rest of the heart between beats, and the lungs between each breath.
Sabbath comes as delight and restoration and renewing.
Or if we fail to rest then Sabbath is forced through sickness and fatigue.
This year has for many of us, disrupted our usual rhythms.
For some this may have been a good change – pointing out ways that we had stretched ourselves unnecessarily – by living busy lives.
For others, these changes have been more difficult than you could ever have imagined, requiring more of you physically, emotionally, mentally, even spiritually, than you thought you could endure.
I don’t want these words to feel heavy.
I don’t want this teaching to feel like “here is another thing that I should be doing, and I’m not doing it – or I’m not doing it right, or I’m not doing it well”.
Because Sabbath, if it is Sabbath, is restorative and relieving and holy. Sabbath reminds us that God can carry and uphold all of creation without our help, for this day.
Then Jesus said,
“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.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)
Sabbath is not meant to be burdensome. It is meant to break into the rhythm of our week and disrupt it, yes, but to disrupt it with relief, release, restoration, rest, joy, and delight.
Sabbath interrupts us, and prioritizes our lives into an order that puts God first.
It is not something we earn. It is not the same as a day off, which is often spent running around completing the things we didn’t have time to do on other days.
In fact, Sabbath has nothing to do with us at all. It is a gift from God that breaks into our lives whether we are ready for it or not.
We can live without Sabbath for a time. Ultimately, a life without Sabbath rest will lead to exhaustion, illness, stress, discord – and a forced rest.
Sabbath that is restorative may take some planning.
Throughout the Old and New Testaments we read the words “It was the day of preparation…” Preparation for what? Preparing for Sabbath.
Food was prepared. The house was prepared. The schedule was cleared. Friends and family were invited to feast.
People thought about what needed to be done on that day of Preparation, so that they would be able to enjoy a day without any responsibility or expectation to create.
But whether or not the preparations were complete, Sabbath happened.
We have the freedom to Sabbath on any day. We have the freedom to take it as we are able – an afternoon, an evening.
We stop our work (as much as we are able – and I know that children make that more of a planning challenge!).
We do things that are restorative… which looks different for each of us.
I like to work in the garden. I know that is NOT restful for everyone. Some people like to play football or climb the Sugarloaf. I feel certain that would not be restful for me. Some people take naps! I don’t take naps…
We sit down to a meal with friends or family. We talk and eat and enjoy the company of loved ones while children run around like wild things.
It is a practice that may take practice. Start where you are able…
Let yourself delight in creation without feeling the need to add to it. Allow God to carry the universe without your help. And while we delight in God, God is also delighting in us.
Let this rest deepen your joy.
Then Jesus said,
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?
Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace… I love that.
Inhale: Lord, I am weary.
Exhale: In You I find rest for my soul.
That’s what I would have said…