I returned from a Clergy Conference two weeks ago that turned out to be most refreshing: Bishop Jennifer’s theme was rest and renewal. I know rest is on her mind as she prepares for her sabbatical. She also charged us to think about how we can encourage times and opportunities for rest for all of us—times and opportunities that are scheduled, anticipated, savored and shared.
I know from my own experience how difficult it is to set aside a time each week and then honor that time as rest time no matter what. The secular world no longer places any limits on any activity, and people are called to work, practice, compete, school at any hour on any day. It almost feels like a crime to turn off the phone and computer and just be—with people, in nature, with God.
Our current way of living is a stark contrast to the mandate of Sabbath preserved by Jews. For many Jews, the weekly Sabbath is eagerly anticipated. It is an incredible luxury to set aside a whole 24 hours to rest. The beauty is that it is a luxury that belongs to all. The Hebrew Bible mandates not only that the rich and successful and powerful get to rest, but even slaves and working animals, all creation, are to rest one day out of every seven. It is not easy to do this, which is perhaps why one of the Ten Commandments is for taking Sabbath rest.
I wonder if we could begin to reclaim rest—scheduled rest—as an anticipated and cherished part of our week, if as God’s children we would allow ourselves such a luxury. Part of the challenge, I think, is to move from a “freedom from” mentality to a “freedom to” mentality. “Freedom from” emphasizes the absence of structures, rules, expectations and formal schedules. That is perhaps the most familiar language of freedom—I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it.
The funny thing is that “freedom from” is actually very limited, and “freedom to,” which involves established limitations or definite choices, is more typically the way to experience the deeper, richer, and more sustained aspects of human life. You can’t master one musical instrument until you limit your freedom and commit to lessons, practices, and performance…but when you have allowed that limitation to your time, you will gain the mastery of an instrument, and have the freedom to create beautiful music. The same concept applies to allowing limits in our lives so that we take the time and energy needed to nurture our most meaningful relationships. Claiming a Sabbath might limit what we do on a Sunday, but gives the freedom to savor time and nurture our relationships with God, with the people in our lives, and with creation.
As we move into the solemn days of Holy Week—days that beg for quiet, stillness, reflection, and prayer—amidst the hyperactivity of spring and the coming of the end of the church year and school year, I hope we can take the challenge to mark time for rest and restoration, beginning with immersing ourselves in these High Holy Days of the Christian faith: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, Easter Vigil, Easter Sunday—and from there our weekly celebration of Easter, which is the meaning of each Sunday Eucharist, which is a feast of the Resurrection. May we lean into a practice protecting Sabbath time as a sacred bubble—and by doing so, be truly counter-cultural, truly claim to be in the world, but not of the world.