When I say Sunday dinner I mean lunch (although on other days, “dinner” means supper—I don’t know why) and I also mean hot meat of some sort. Today it was baked chicken, real mashed potatoes (skins-on), and three-bean salad (cheated on that—it came from a can).
In an alternate universe, this meal would have been served by me, wearing an apron, after a morning spent in church.
In this particular universe, there was no apron and no morning in church.
I never remember to put on an apron, and organized religion and I are spending some time apart. I am participating in what Wendell Berry’s character Jayber Crow called “disorganized religion,” which I typically call being a Zen Baptist.
What about you? Are you resting on this day of rest?
Some of the people who take the Bible most literally, who insist that Genesis is a literal description of creation (despite the fact that there are two creation stories in Genesis and a third in Proverbs 8), are adept at ignoring Genesis 2:2-3, when God rested and created the Sabbath—something Yahweh cared enough about, apparently, to put it on his Top Ten list, (this from Exodus 20)“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work….”
Of course, there are those who take this commandment very seriously, who won’t drive on the Sabbath, who work hard the day before to make food that can be eaten without work to prepare it. But that’s not what I grew up with, not my adult experience, although one of the reasons I love living in Spring Green is that I can function really well without driving anywhere. (Walking home from the bars is only a small part of that pleasure.)
It’s one of the more striking ironies of my life–any time I’ve belonged to a faith community, been an active participant in one, Sunday was anything BUT a day of rest.
Stretches when I’m in a wilderness time (which can be nasty and involve dehydration, or wonderful, like now), Sunday stands a much better chance of actually being a day of rest.
What do I mean by wilderness time? It’s a reference to Jesus’s time in the wilderness, first of all. Three of the four gospels tell the story of Jesus going into the desert, immediately after being baptized, to fast for 40 days and 40 nights. He’s tempted by Satan there (the best depiction of which I’ve ever seen occurs in the movie Jesus of Montreal, when the actor portraying Jesus in a suddenly-popular passion play has a lawyer telling him all the ways he could parlay this into fame and fortune).
If you focus on the gospels (as opposed to the epistles of the apostle Paul), one of the things that stands out is how often Jesus heads out on his own. My friend Tammy is the first person I recall hearing preach on this–she’s also the first person I remember pointing out to me that God pronounces he is “well pleased” with Jesus before Jesus has done anything we consider part of his work on Earth. Even after he begins that work, Jesus sneaks off a number of times, which should comfort both my slacker and my introvert friends.
I’m not saying that he was resting, exactly, as he was fasting and being tempted, but it was sort of a pause, an episode of time off the clock. His ministry won’t start until he leaves the desert, but it can’t start until he’s spent enough time in the desert.
Once his ministry starts, he somehow gets a reputation as a “wine-bibber and glutton,” which I grew up understanding was slander, that people were falsely accusing him of that. Really? I don’t know. I think Jesus had a prescription for chill pills, and knew when to take one.
Matthew 11 is a really interesting chapter. John the Baptist is in prison and sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he’s the Messiah (when John baptized Jesus, he didn’t seem to have any doubts about the matter). Jesus sends them back to John with a list of what he’s accomplished, a sort of short-form resume, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” Then he adds, bizarrely coming at the end of this list, “And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.”
He spends some time praising John the Baptist, and then does a little comparison/contrast:
“But to what will I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;
we wailed, and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
(I personally prefer “winebibber” to “drunkard,” because it sounds like so much more fun.)
It’s not literal, of course, John did eat and drink (honey and locusts, at the very least), and we don’t have Biblical evidence of Jesus eating too much or getting tipsy, but we do have evidence he appreciated good wine. Otherwise why would his first miracle be turning water into, not just wine, but wine pronounced as good wine?
The chapter ends with verses I’m pleased to take literally (and poetically, which is why I quote the King James version here): “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Never, not once, has my participation in a faith community felt easy or light. It has felt terrific, and right, and sustaining, and wonderful at times (not so great at other times). But easy? Or light? Not that I’m remembering.
So was Jesus just being ironic there?
I don’t think so, although he says things other times that contradict this (“Take up your cross daily” comes to mind—I often feel that just getting out of bed is my cross).
As someone who is nearly always teetering on the edge of burnout, I want to cling to those verses, make them real.
The title of this blog, “Day of Rest, My Ass,” is a poem written by a character in an old novel draft of mine, written during my first sabbatical, in 2004. She’s a burned-out preacher trying to find her way by working at a church camp one summer.
I understand why Jesus blesses anyone who doesn’t take offense. He did and said so many things to upset the apple quo, and advocating rest, for me a lot of days, tops the list.