From the Rev. Deacon Carey Chirico, Director of Outreach, St. George’s Episcopal Church
Fredericksburg, VA | Proper 11 Year B, July 19, 2015.
The sounds of locusts buzzing lazily in the trees.
The call of the mourning dove.
The sky filled with pink and yellow.
The flicker of lightning bugs.
Summer brings warm days which slow us down – Moving slowly, eating early and late, napping at midday.
In our southern city, it is as if the earth itself is calling us to slow down, dragging on our arms and legs.
In many parts of Eastern Africa, there is a tradition of waking early before dawn to begin the morning chores and then moving outside to a pallet to lie back down until the sun covers and wakes your body to a new day.
This is not so much a homily or a sermon as an ode to the warmth of summer, to the call of the planets on our bodies. Rest, be still, they seem to say. Let the heat of the day pass.
Growing up in an urban neighborhood in the South left me curiously aware of the Sabbath day habits of other faiths. The orthodox Jews walked back and forth to services. Usually in small family groups, they talked animatedly to the children in their the midst, leaving a strong impression of the importance of this Sabbath day to the family. Around the corner and up the street, the bells of the Catholic Church called their congregation to order. The nuns who lived nearby walked together, but the families arrived by car, with sulky teens and well scrubbed children. Greek Orthodox, Methodist, Baptist all worshiped alongside each other with the bells of our Episcopal Church ringing out our service times.
If you grew up in the South, you many have heard of the book Being Dead is No Excuse, and while we laugh, there is more than humor there. Sundays may have had their traditions, but despite our church-going habits, “creating Sabbath” was not necessarily one of them. What is the first thing that comes to mind when I suggest to you – Come away and rest? Do you immediately picture all the things you need to do today? The unwashed laundry, the un-purchased food?
And yet, as our bodies long to slow down, so too, our souls crave time to renew.
Today we hear about Jesus who has spent weeks traveling around the Sea of Galilee healing, teaching and guiding – followed by an ever growing number of people in need, like sheep without a shepherd. We hear Jesus saying, “Come away and rest awhile.”Jesus leaving the constant and unending stream of need, to renew and to reconnect.
Sabbath is a concept older than our Scriptures. Sabbath in Judaism, Sabbath as Jesus would have known it – is a way of seeking God’s presence in time, not a place. It begins at sundown – and ends at the following sundown – defined as when three stars are visible in the nightsky. In Hebrew, the word Shabbat means the ‘remembrance of the act of creation.’
In the lighting of the evening candles we are recalling the act of the creation of light. Anger and indignation, strong emotions are discouraged as it is a time that is a metaphor for paradise. The six days of the work week are but a pilgrimage in the world on the way to the next Sabbath evening. The Hebrew word for holy is one of the most meaningful words in the Bible, rich in context implying ‘full of majesty and mystery.’
It is interesting to note that the first object in Scripture given this description is not a mountain, or an altar or a sacred spring… but a day. “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.”
It was on the seventh day that God gave the world a soul, says the great Jewish mystic, Abraham Heschel, “Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”
Time that calls to our souls
as the heat of the summer air
calls to our bodies.
And Jesus stopped, went apart and rested.
Perhaps he lit candles and welcomed in the Sabbath. Perhaps he recalled the prayers of childhood and said them over a simple dinner with his disciples. Perhaps he watched the sun set or got up early and soaked in the colors of dawn reliving the day that God gave the world a soul.
We spend a lot of time on sacred space. Do we know how to create sacred time?
Mystics would tell us that the Sabbath is a reminder of this world and the next – “For the Sabbath is joy, holiness and rest; joy is part of this world; holiness and rest are something of the world to come.” As a central tenant of Jewish life, it is a time of physical relaxation and spiritual renewal.
Come away and rest awhile. Amid the needs, the noise, the clamor of the world – come away and rest awhile. Not because the work of our weekly lives matters so little, but because the real work of our lives matters so much. Ours is the greatest of missions – to become a dwelling place for the Divine.
It is the season to rest, to recall to whom we belong and to whom we are the most beloved.