Sunday, March 05, 2006
March 5, 2006 - Sabbath
("The Sabbath," by Marc Chagall)
Today is Sunday, and I’m sitting at home. I can sit in my study in the Manse and look directly across the street at the church sanctuary, where services are going on. I’m still feeling weak from my most recent chemo treatment, and this is the day when I can expect the hot flashes and rush of nervous energy from the prednisone, so I’m playing it safe and staying home. It’s an odd feeling to be here, and not over there.
It’s Youth Sunday, and ordinarily I’d have a high interest in observing what sort of insurrection our daughter Ania and her friends have planned as they take over the worship service for the day, but this year it’s just not meant to be. Claire’s over there representing us, and will bring me a full report. I don’t think the young scions of Presbyterianism are likely to burn the place down.
Most pastors have an ambiguous relationship with the whole idea of sabbath. Our lives are seriously out of sync with the rest of the world, to begin with: we work while others are resting. Yet a lot of preachers I know find it hard to relax, on Monday morning or anytime. I know that’s generally been true for me.
On Sundays in our culture, of course, there’s precious little resting going on anywhere. The larger stores are all open for business, and in warm weather the school athletic fields are full, dawn to dusk, with kids kicking soccer balls or gleefully plowing their football-helmeted heads into each other’s stomachs. My mother can tell tales of her girlhood, sitting quietly on her grandmother's porch through interminable, Calvinist Sunday afternoons, forbidden to read the frivolous newspaper comics till Monday. Those days are long gone. In twenty-first-century America, Sunday’s just another day.
For most people, it’s a leisure day – and leisure, for most of us, is anything but restful. (Who but Americans could come up with the concept of “extreme sports,” and call it a leisure activity?) Leisure, these days, is for doing the things we do when we’re not working: errands, home repairs, paying bills, schlepping the kids to the athletic fields, and maybe – if there’s time to squeeze it in – an excursion to church. For lots of people, worshiping God has become a leisure activity, just one among many. Some Sundays are just too busy for resting, let alone worshiping.
Not today, though. Not for me. Today’s just another sick day, within these four walls.
Yesterday, I wrote about Seasons. It seems to me, today, that another way to look at my situation is from the standpoint of sabbath. My illness is enforcing a kind of uninvited sabbath on my life. Two years ago I had a sabbatical – a three-month paid leave from my church duties, courtesy of the Lilly Endowment’s National Clergy Renewal Program – but now, it seems, I’ve been awarded another one. This one’s courtesy not of Lilly, but of Lymphoma.
The words “sabbatical” and “sabbath” are related. Whether it’s one day in seven, or one year in seven, God means us to slow down for a bit, take stock and reflect on what’s most important. Perhaps that will be an unintended consequence of this time, this season – this sabbath.
"Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; 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." (Exodus 20:8-11)