Tuesday in Lent 4
Morning Office Readings: Psalms 97, 99; Jeremiah 17:19-27; Romans 7:13-25; John 6:16-27

This morning’s reading from Jeremiah is classic Old Testament stuff.  What Jeremiah is supposed to announce as the word of the Lord is this:  “If you listen to me,” i.e., practice obedience, fulfillment of God’s promise will follow.  “If you do not listen to me,” i.e., do not practice obedience, no fulfillment of God’s promise will follow (and usually that means punishment).  Readers and hearers of the Old Testament can follow this pattern throughout the narrative of Israelite history.
What’s intriguing about the example here in Jeremiah is that the obedience to which God refers has to do with keeping Sabbath, about taking care not to violate the fourth commandment by bearing burdens or doing work on a day set aside for rest and holiness.  I suppose I’m a little surprised that this particular commandment gets singled out; there seemto be so many worse things about which Jeremiah could get angry.And then I start to think about how foundational Sabbath keeping–rest and holiness–is.

Seminarians are always tired; I know very few students who get seven or eight hours of sleep a night.  According to the results of some long-term studies on sleep deprivation in the United States, very few other people do, either.  I don’t need to rehearse all the bad things that can follow from getting too little rest.

What I’m noticing that’s new—at least new to me—is how often I hear folks refer to “Sabbath” as “self-care,” or “me time.”  As in, “Dean Purdum, we want to schedule a sabbath day for students and bring in some masseuses.”  It’s not that I mind that particular idea in and of itself—during exam week, my office has been known to program yoga, finger painting, and pet therapy—anything to help the students get out of the library and out of their heads for a little bit.  But to equate such activities as “Sabbath” is problematic.  Keeping the Sabbath means just the opposite of “self-care” or “me time”—it means segmenting time that belongs especially to God.

For those of us who are tired, stressed, harried and desperately in need of some “self-care” and “me time,” the good news about keeping Sabbath in this way is that it promises genuine rest.  You get to lay those burdens down, literally, rather than bearing them across town.  Eight of our students and I did this during spring break last week.  We went on a three-day retreat where we did not talk, ate healthful food, disconnected from the internet, and spent time in prayer.  Some of our prayer looked like swinging in a tree swing, napping all afternoon in the sun, or lying on the grass and gazing at a night sky full of stars.

Most of us struggle with keeping Sabbath as rest and holiness.  We may not be willfully stiff-necked about it, but we may find ourselves, like St. Paul, not doing what we want but doing the very thing we hate.  So let’s encourage one another to put those burdens down on the Sabbath, whatever we’re carrying, as God says through Jeremiah—“for the sake of [our] lives.”

Ellen+