By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
At the heart of today’s gospel lesson is a question about the role that the Sabbath plays in our lives. The Sabbath has been an essential part of our lives from the beginning of creation when: “God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation" (Genesis 2:3 NRSV). Later, when God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments, he declared that the fourth commandment was to, “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…” (Exodus 20:8-10 NRSV). Sabbath was created for our rest and renewal, for time set apart to honor and commune with God.
Over the course of many years, the Jewish community took the 10 commandments, and a host of other laws, and ran with them. Except they ran so far, that by the time Jesus began his public ministry the Pharisees were no longer able to uphold the spirit of the law. They were too busy policing the letter of the law. Remember last week we heard Jesus proclaim that he had come to change everything, to turn everything right side up. One of the things he hoped to turn right side up was the Jewish community’s understanding of the law. Time and time again throughout the Gospels we see Jesus break the letter of the law to lift up the spirit of the law.
It’s what we see take place in today’s gospel lesson where Jesus is teaching in the synagogue and sees a woman who has clearly been bent and crippled for years. He asks the woman to approach him and heals her. She stands up straight and then begins to praise God. This woman’s life and her relationship with God has been been healed and restored. But the leaders at the synagogue were ticked off that Jesus would dare break the sabbath by healing this woman. They addressed Jesus in front of the crowd, Why break the Sabbath? Why not heal her one of the other six days of the week?
I imagine, at this point, Jesus was ready to bang his head against the wall, but instead he called the leaders out on their hypocrisy. He challenges the leaders, Surely if you can unbind your oxen on the Sabbath, I can unbind this woman from her illness and restore her to God? Jesus was trying to help the Jewish establishment and the crowd of seekers understand that what counts is the spirit of the law. What counts is what God intended when God gave the law, the deeper meaning under the surface.
Christianity took this newfound understanding and ran with it. We ran so far, for so long, that the very notion of Sabbath seems to have disappeared from our lives altogether. Too many of us, too many of our neighbors, are running on empty fumes. We balance multiple calendars and obligations as we try to balance careers, family, friends, involvement in the community and in the life of the church. There seems to be one demand of our time after another. Our American culture has lost sight of Sabbath. We have forgotten that Sabbath gives us a much needed chance for rest and renewal, for honoring and communing with God. When God created the seventh day for Sabbath it was with the understanding that all of creation, including the human species, needs adequate time for restoration and relationship with God.
There are warning signs all around us when we need Sabbath. I saw this expressed in an anonymous quote this past week, that said: “If you are feeling a bit irritated or overwhelmed, it’s a sign you are spending less time with God and more time with the world.” Being irritated, overwhelmed, or even feeling lost are all signs that we have been spending too much time in the world. They are like an alarm warning sound to our system that we must make room for Sabbath as soon as possible. Your life might not allow you to take one entire day for Sabbath. Yet we are a creative people, and if determined, we can make a regular place for Sabbath in our lives.
Making time for regular Sabbath is what allows us to maintain the relationships in our lives and to engage in the mission that Christ has called the Church. We have just had an incredible week of mission to the greater community led by Marie Paquette and Dennis O’Rourke and their team of amazing volunteers. It was a tiring week, and we will all need to take some Sabbath this coming week. But after our Sabbath, we will come back together to continue the work of the Jesus Movement--to bring healing and reconciliation to God’s world.
One way to think of it is that we have 52.5 days a year that are meant for Sabbath, and 312.5 days a year for the work of the Jesus Movement.
Please go home, get some rest, find a real chance for Sabbath this week. Because my friends, we have work to do. We are the Jesus Movement. Amen.
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