Deuteronomy 5:12-15; IICorinthians4:6-11; Psalm 81; Mark 2:23-3:6
For the last few weeks Taoiseach Ivan and I, in our homilies, have talked a lot about our work as Christians. How we are to struggle to build the Kingdom of God, proclaim the Gospel, and live the Truth of Christ in our lives and for the world. And all that is true and important, but there is another aspect of our relationship with God that often gets short-changed. And that is the Sabbath, our rest in God. What do I mean by “rest in God”? When we have done what we can do, at any given time, then we let go – let go and let God. Leave the results of our work in God’s hands. This is very difficult for many of us. St. Augustine wrote, “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” I think many of us have very restless hearts – look at the word “restless”, it means without rest, as hopeless means without hope. We cannot rest because we don’t trust, we do not rest because we do not truly believe, we will not rest because we refuse to let go.
If we find our time taken up with worry, we are not resting. If we are constantly thinking “what if’s” and “if only’s”, we are not resting. If we are weighed down with regrets and second thoughts, we are not resting. In our second lesson from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Church in Corinth, he said, “This treasure we possess in earthen vessels to make it clear that its surpassing power comes from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed; full of doubts, we never despair. We are persecuted but never abandoned; we are struck down but never destroyed.” That is rest in God, that is Christ as our Sabbath. We live our life so undisturbed by the turmoil of this fallen world that the life of Christ shines through our “earthen vessels”. Can we do this? Yes. Do we do this? Well, I know that I don’t, at least I don’t as consistently as I would like to, as I need to.
Terrible things happen in this world every day, and they happen to good people as well as bad people. We just learned that a terrible fate has befallen one of our oldest friends, and a different event has happened to my maternal Aunt, and there is very little we can do to prevent such things, there never has been. Human beings have suffered from disease, accidents and natural disasters since the beginning. We have also suffered from the consequences of sinful and foolish choices. The only way to cope with them and stay sane, as well as faithful, is to trust in and rest in the prodigal providence of our Heavenly Father. We do not put our trust in a belief that things will turn out how we want them to, but that God will use whatever is happening for his glory and the building of his kingdom. Even if in the process, like St. Paul, we are afflicted, doubtful, persecuted and struck down. In our first hymn we sang, “When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie, my grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply; the flames shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.” We will be refined into pure spiritual gold only if we do not resist the process. And our resistance often takes the form of restlessness, trustlessness and not letting go.
In our Gospel lesson from St. Mark, Our Lord says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” God commanded rest, for our physical as well as spiritual good, as well as to honor God’s own work and rest. Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, “ ‘Stretch out your hand.’ The man did so and his hand was perfectly restored.” On the Sabbath. What can we read into this? That our rest in God is essential to maintain our ability to work for God. If we trust in, and rest in God the way we should we will not suffer from “burnout”, we will not become discouraged or begin to believe that what we are trying to do is futile and pointless.
In our Celtic tradition we have tried to maintain the seventh day, Saturday as a day of rest, a Sabbath in preparation for the Lord’s Day. In our modern society this is difficult to pull off. But our rest is not limited by the calendar, we should, in fact, be resting every day. Rest is not the opposite of work, our rest in God is the context of our work. Rest is the antidote for disordered stress, for worry, for our white-knuckled grip on life. We must let our hands be restored, our hearts be filled with the light of Christ, so that in this darkened world, “… the life of Jesus may be revealed in our mortal flesh.”
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