It’s mid-week and I’m struggling to get to morning Mass. Not because I don’t want to be immersed in the sacrament, but because of the connection I feel outside. The sounds, smells, and sights of being outdoors are intoxicating to me. I feel God’s presence surround me in this chapel of His creation.
June seemed to have slipped through my fingers. One day morphed into the next, with activities and chores in the garden. In the center of it all, my daughter and son-in-law purchased their first home and once again, God asked me to hit pause on my plans. Sometimes we simply have to do ministry in the space that surrounds us. So I put aside my writing projects and dove in to care for the things God placed in my path. After all, isn’t that what I pray every morning? “Lord, who will you send me today? Where will I serve?”
I wish I could say I did it all without guilt, but I didn’t. I critiqued my plans and felt the pressure of getting behind, of letting people down. The work at my daughter’s house took more of a toll on my body than I thought and in my spare time, I chose to simply rest and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. I chose to re-energize with my feet firmly planted on the ground.
I imagine God would approve of this time. Didn’t He feel the need to rest on the seventh day and command us to honor the Sabbath? Few people remember the old days when businesses shut down and honored the Sabbath. What good can possibly be gained from one more day of busyness? This notion caused me to pause and really meditate on the fourth commandment and how I do not honor it and keep it holy, as I should.
We first hear of the Sabbath in God’s commandments given to Moses for the people of Israel in Exodus 20:8-11:
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; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
So many words within this short text to unpack. Let’s start with holy. Here, God is telling us to set this day aside from all the other ordinary days and keep it special. He gives us six days to accomplish the work we need to perform for our needs on earth, but on that seventh day, our work must cease. This commandment is rooted in scripture, too–in Genesis 2:2-3, God Himself rested after all He created. He paused on that day to look at all He had done, for you and me, and marvel at how good it was.
God is calling us to celebrate all He has given us and learn to rest in His love, not our labor. He calls us to let go of our need to work and control our outcome and rely on Him instead. For this was His plan all along. The book of Exodus is the revealing of His faithfulness to the Israelites. In Genesis, we watch as God’s people begin to lose their way through sin as they rely on their own strength and veer away from God’s ways. Don’t we often do that–get tired of waiting for God’s blessings and think that we can do things better or quicker ourselves? Four hundred years of slavery and bondage was the consequence for their lack of trust in God’s plan.
The book of Exodus introduces the Israelites’ departure from Egypt toward freedom from slavery. God wanted to create a nation set apart from the surrounding empires, to be an example of depending on and trusting in God. The other nations practiced self-reliance and God hoped to show His strength and power through His people. This is what relying on Him looks like and the result is goodness and prosperity. Do we live out God’s plan to show the world it can trust and depend on Him? Do we stand out in our communities as people of God? Do others know this from how we carry ourselves?
I sometimes imagine what it was like for generation upon generation of Israelites to have been entrenched in a life of slavery, of constant work. God wanted to take His people away from that life and teach them a new way of resting and relying on Him. Perhaps this is where we are in our lives today–working day in and day out to get ahead, to create a life of wealth and prosperity. Or perhaps you do rest, but your rest consists of secular things with no focus on God. I’ve been there, but like the Israelites, I’m now trying to be more intentional about seeing God’s miraculous works around me. I’m moving toward trusting and relying upon His power and grace more than my own. This has come to me in the times I have carved out time for prayer and reading scripture.
“Therefore, the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.” When God blesses and consecrates something, it means He will make it rich and holy. He commands us to take a break and immerse ourselves in this gift from Him; to see all He can do for us. The prophet Isaiah reminds that keeping the Sabbath is not meant to take away our fun, but remind us of His provision and love for us:
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs, then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (58:13-14)
So I missed daily Mass this morning. I chose His creation for my chapel. I found Him in the silence and began a litany of praise for the gifts He lavishly pours over me each day. No, today is not the Sabbath, but it is still a lesson in learning to rise up in the midst of the demands to do more and retreat again to dependency and stillness with the only One who can offer true rest for my soul.