As Christians, we very rarely speak of the importance of Sabbath rest and what it really means. And I have spent the past week reflecting upon how other peoples honor Sabbath rest. My father-in-law’s family, who range from conservation to orthodox Jews, takes very seriously the notion of Sabbath. On the Sabbath my husband’s uncles will not turn on or off any lights in their homes. They will not turn on or off the oven even to make something to eat. All meal preparations need to be done on Friday before sundown for the next day. They will not watch television or even so much as shower. It is the Sabbath and since God commanded them, since the days of Adam and Eve, to rest on the Sabbath and to keep it holy that is exactly what they do. They walk to services and the day is set aside for religious observance.
However, many Christians would say that our scriptures from Mark this morning change how we as Christians need to observe the Sabbath. I would disagree. Jesus at no point in our scriptures tells us to forget about Sabbath practices. He just tells us to not allow for rules around the Sabbath to dictate to us whether or not live into God’s love. It just opens up the possibilities of just what it means to observe Sabbath rest.
I believe a lot of people have forgotten how to just relax. God commanded that we rest and that rest can by Holy and promote conversation with God. We need rest from time to time. And this is hard for a lot of people, myself included. We are not all raised to be alright with down time in life. In my family, to be doing nothing was to be lazy. So if I sit down with nothing to do, I have this nagging voice in the back of my head reminding me that I could be doing something more productive with my time. I could be baking, cleaning, organizing, or attending to something else that is work related.
Does this sound familiar to any of you? The inability to just sit still is a problem that I know a lot of people have. Yet when I don’t work to get some Sabbath rest, I get worn down, burned out, and eventually I start to feel sick and exhausted. Sabbath rest may look different from person to person. It isn’t just taking time for a nap. For me, it could be just an hour set aside a week to do some yoga that I find centering and calming. It could be going for a hike. It could be spending time with my family. And for some people it most certainly could be taking a nap. And you may laugh but statistics prove that those cultures that are known as siesta cultures have reduced coronary heart disease by 37%. Pilots who take a “nasa nap” have increased their alertness by 37%. Rest is something that our bodies need to be more effective in life and I would say rest is something we need to keep our focus and attention on God and the work of Christ.
Our bodies very obviously need down time. But I would venture to say that so do our souls. When we don’t do anything that would build our spiritual well being then we begin to lose our spiritual alertness, we get worn out, and begin to really wonder where God is. Our souls can get tired and burned out. There is no one way to build up our spiritual well being just like there is no one way to recharge our body’s battery. It can be done with outreach. It can be done by charitable works. It is anything that takes your talents and joys in life and uses them to build you up and help those who are in need. It might be a bible study, reading a story to a child, singing a song, sitting in a quiet empty church, attending worship, entering into prayer, reading, or calling a good friend we haven’t seen in awhile.
It is important to take care of ourselves as well as we would take care of those others we meet in life. If we don’t care for ourselves then there isn’t much that we can do in our Christian work that will really help others who are in need. Christ got into a lot of trouble for doing work on the Sabbath. And let me share with you why. He got into trouble with the Pharisees because the observance of the Sabbath was very clearly mapped out in Jewish cultural laws. There was a very distinct set of rules for Sabbath observance. They were so exact that there should have been no question on what was considered to be work and what was considered good acceptable observance of God’s holy day.
What Christ does is set all those laws upside down. He is freeing the Sabbath from those restrictions and really asking people to take some time to think about what Sabbath truly means to them and to individualize that experience to their particular needs. No one person’s way of observing the Sabbath will be the same as the next and that is alright. But remember what Christ said in this morning’s scriptures, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?’.” Christ called the Pharisees to really think about what was lawful. Sabbath is supposed to be a merciful holy rest not a sacrifice to which you cause yourself and others to suffer until a set amount of time has been achieved. Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar and theologian, writes this about Sabbath, “Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms”. Jesus wants us, calls us, to use the idea of Sabbath rest as a way that not only transforms our lives but the world around us. It isn’t about rules but about making God and his work a priority and seeing his work all around. So this morning and this week, I encourage each of you to take some time and to think about what you have done for Sabbath rest and what you need to build you up for the work of Christ in this world.
 Mark 3: 4, RSV.
 Walter Brueggemann, 21st century.
(Based on Genesis 1:26-2:4 and Mark 2:23-3:6)