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On the Journey...
Monthly Insight From Pastor Phil Yoder
May 20, 2020
The Sabbath and The COVID-19
We have all seen the images, empty streets, freeways with cars, empty parking lots, stores closed, restaurants closed, airplanes in parking lots in the desert rather than at airports, major cities looking like ghost towns. The world, except for hospitals, grocery stores, and toilet paper factories, has come close to shutting down. I never thought I would ever live to see anything like this, in fact, I could not have even imagined anything like this happening in our lifetime. Much of the world has seemed to come to a screeching halt and is being forced to rest from the seemingly endless activities that we have grown accustomed to and have come to accept as normal.
The Bible, in just the second chapter, tells us that God rested. In the 10 Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:12-15) God commanded a Sabbath rest for all people regardless of their status, and for animals too, because God rested, and to remind people that we are not slaves. Further, God commanded that every seven years the land should be given a rest, and that every seventh sabbatical (50 years), even the basic structures of society are to be given a rest, debts are to be canceled, slaves are to be freed, and land is to be returned to families of origin (Leviticus 25). But the world has largely ignored these commands for rest.
Rest is essential for our health and for the health of the world. Even nature takes a rest. In winter trees shed their leaves, the grass doesn’t grow, at least not in northern Indiana, flowers don’t bloom, wild animals don’t give birth, birds don’t build nests, some creatures hibernate, others go to where life is easier, and the list could go on. Every day reminds us to rest, it gets dark and that day’s outdoor activities must cease. Our bodies need rest, and so do our minds and even our souls. Jesus said, “Come to me if you are weary… and I will give you REST!” And rest is what our weary souls so often need. When we get sick, what is the thing our doctors so frequently tells us to do? “Go home and…REST!”
And yet, our world refuses to rest. We neglect God’s command to rest, we become blind to God’s example and to nature’s constant reminder to rest. We want to go, go, go , and then go some more! Our world resists rest. We might miss out on some thrill, a new gadget, another dollar, an opportunity. It goes against our good Protestant work ethic to rest when we have one ounce of energy left in our bodies. And if we do rest, we feel guilty. We lift up pretty high those who work hard and are successful. And to be sure, we should work hard! But we have come to think that rest is an option, it is something dispensable, something we can do without. The world has largely ignored God's command for Sabbath and for Sabbath rest. The world is filled with continual activity, and there is little opportunity for rest. And then along comes a COVID-19, or a famine, or some natural disaster, or an economic downturn, and we are forced to rest. Is it possible that our world from time to time, too, cries out to God for rest?
Certainly, for health care workers and food supply workers, this is not a time of rest. But we hope that their time for rest will soon come! But perhaps, the rest of us who can, should use this time when much of the world has shut down to listen to God’s command for Sabbath. I know that in our history, overzealous advocates of law have turned the Sabbath into little more than a graceless grocery list of rules that must be obeyed at all costs. And there were serious consequences if they were not obeyed! We have reacted against that and in doing so, have felt justified in throwing out Sabbath. But our need for rest, and the need of the world for rest, has not changed. Rest is not a form of punishment, even though when we were children, we may have thought it was. Sabbath really is a gift from God. The purpose of Sabbath is for rest, for renewal, to remember who God is and who we are, and to put things in their proper perspective, so that we can return to work with renewed energy and clearer vision. Times of rest are very important, whether we want to recognize it or not. I hope that we don’t waste this opportunity, in spite of all the uncertainties, the inconveniences, the hard times, and fears that have been thrown at us, to observe a Sabbath and to find rest for our bodies, but more importantly, to learn to trust God in new and deeper ways, and find rest for our souls.
ast pandemics, and we as the church of Jesus Christ, who must embody the heart of Jesus, should prepare to do so again.