Tag Archives: Sabbath

Sabbath Rest

Sabbath Rest

It’s really hard when you want to write about something that you know is a good thing to do but you are not so good at actually doing it yourself. A someone commented yesterday when I delivered this sermon, ‘Physician, heal thyself’! Still, as I said, it acts as a good reminder to me as well as everyone else

Bible Reference: Luke 10:38-42

May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit

I had to think long and hard about what I wanted to say this morning, because I am sure that some people could so obviously accuse me of hypocrisy, quite possibly a case of ‘do as I say and not as I do!’ But I believe there is an important message that needs to be explored and undoubtedly, I need to hear it as much as others might.

But first let me ask a question for you to ponder… when was the last time that you actually spent time doing nothing? Not doing something that you wouldn’t consider work, nor doing something that involves you organising your leisure time, not even setting time aside for prayer or to read a book… but just simply doing nothing but resting.

I guess that this simple kind of resting could go one of two ways. You either fall asleep or you allow yourself to simply bring yourself for those few precious moments into God’s presence. I call them precious moments because so many people nowadays have lives that do not involve seeking any time of rest or relaxation. We are conditioned to wake up and immediately our brains are focussed on what we must achieve that day or over the coming week. We have to plan and organise every single minute of our time, whether that is doing work, or filling our leisure time with activities or for parents of young children making sure that they are involved in stimulating pursuits, because, heaven help us, that they should be bored or have nothing to do!

But what’s wrong with a bit of boredom every now and again? Yes, it can be a state of mind caused by a lack of stimulation that leaves us craving relief, but it’s also acknowledged that without boredom we couldn’t achieve our creative feats. It often gives us time to think, to explore and to rest awhile.

It’s the difference between being a Martha or a Mary… not that I’m suggesting that Mary was bored, having nothing to do… but the two women in our gospel are demonstrating the need to set aside time to simply be with God. It’s also not the case that we need to choose between being a Mary or a Martha, whether we should only be one or the other. Rather that it’s essential to be both. Like Martha we think that the important thing is doing, but Jesus teaches us through Mary’s example that we need to sit, to listen, to learn, to love.

For Mary and Martha, their friendship with Jesus meant that they would have been proud to have this popular man as a guest in their house, together with all of his entourage and followers, and Martha, as the principal hostess would have wanted to make sure that he was comfortable and that his needs were catered for. So she welcomed him into her home and went into the kitchen to prepare a meal for him.

However, her sister Mary did NOT go into the kitchen but instead ‘sat at Jesus feet’, and fair enough when you have guests you do not generally abandon them straight away and all disappear to do other things. But for Martha, it wasn’t okay that her presumably younger sister got to do nothing, while she had to organise and cater for so many.

Luke tells us that Martha ‘was distracted by her many tasks’ and I’m sure we all know how that feels, don’t we! The times when we’ve experience being ‘in over our heads’, when we’ve needed help, but didn’t know where to turn. The times perhaps when we’ve pitched up to help with something and end up doing everything, while others sit around chatting. So Martha’s anger at being abandoned in the kitchen was understandable, and the stress and anxiety spills over into calling out Mary in front of everyone. There was no subtle sidling up to Mary and saying, ‘Mary, I need some help’. instead she rebukes Jesus, her principle guest, whom she had acknowledged as ‘Lord’ and basically orders him to ‘Tell my lazy sister to get into the kitchen to give me a hand’ or words to that effect and meaning.

‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?
Tell her then to help me.’
Luke 10:40

Now everyone is aware of the tension in the room, but we can still feel sympathy for Martha, and in some ways we want Jesus to appreciate and commend Martha for her hard work and suggest that they both go in there and give her a hand. However, Mary’s focus on her relationship with Jesus was also right and whereas Martha’s anger was disruptive, and Jesus acknowledges that she is ‘anxious and troubled about many things, he points out that Mary has chosen to the one thing that is needed

She had set aside time, in the busiest of situations to spend time with God. What we might call Sabbath rest, when we very deliberately take time to do nothing but make ourselves more aware of God with us. And don’t get confused, this is not just setting aside one day a week to abstain from work, because even that is no longer a day when we rest our minds and our bodies, instead filling it up with alternative tasks; but times, whether it’s a few hours or minutes that we switch off from the everyday normal.

This idea of taking time to step aside, is nothing new. From the very beginning we are given this example of Sabbath rest. After creating the heavens and earth, in whatever way or timescale you believe, God rested. It didn’t mean that God was tired and needed a rest, unlike most of us, because being omnipotent he never tires, but he simply stopped what he was doing, he ceased from his work. It was a message and example that he called the Israelites to follow when he handed down his commandments. They were to remember the Sabbath day and ‘keep it holy’. They were to lay down their work in order to spend time in worship and prayer.

For Jesus himself, there were times that he must have experienced the stress and anxiety caused by overwork. As more and more people came to seek him and listen to his teachings, so the time that he had to take that rest became more and more elusive. Still he recognised the importance of stepping aside if only for a short time. In Mark’s gospel we hear that ‘because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Who hasn’t skipped a meal because of the workload we’re experiencing, but after resting, it’s so much easier to exit that secret place, go back into the world, and feel re-energized, focused, encouraged and strengthened to continue doing what we’re called to do.

So many mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression can be caused as the saying goes, by ‘too much work and not enough play. And not taking time out may make any existing mental health issues worse. And what’s even more alarming is that even primary school children are showing signs of mental health problems – including anxiety, panic attacks and depression –caused mainly by family problems, pressures of exams and social media, which lead to problems such as self-harming, eating disorders and OCD.

So, when we find ourselves in stressful situations such as a difficult phone call, a crowded train journey home or a looming deadline, we need to give ourselves time to pause and calm down. Imagine what Martha could have done. Instead of stomping into the living room and having a go at Jesus and Mary, she could have gone into her bedroom and closed the door. Martha could have prayed ‘God, I’m so angry. It would be so tempting to take out this anger on Jesus and Mary – but I know that would be wrong. Please drain this anger out of my heart. Help me to feel love for Jesus, my guest, and Mary, my sister.

 Better still, Martha could have gone and joined her sister Mary at Jesus’ feet and listened to him speak and be in his presence for a while. Who would have worried that the meal was late when was it was Jesus that was with them

We are such busy people, and we live in such a busy world. It’s easy to miss the important things. The story of Martha and Mary tells us that there is value in sitting – in listening – in learning – in loving. Whether at home or work or school, take a moment to look around and find the blessings in your life. Take a moment to thank God for giving you another day to discover more. Sit at God’s feet for just a moment. Be quiet. Listen. Treasure the moment.

We all live in a Martha world, but take time to be Mary for just a bit. Jesus says that that’s the one thing that’s needed. He says that’s the good part that won’t be taken from us. Give it a try. You will find a blessing! You will find that Jesus was right.

Amen

‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’
Luke 10:41-42

Mary and Martha - Vermeer

Mary and Martha by Vermeer

 

Day Seven – A Day of Rest

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Sunday sees us dispersing ourselves to various churches in and around Jerusalem  After so many new sights and sounds over the last week it is nice to be doing something familiar, although not quite as familiar as it would seem. The group being made up of Anglicans, Methodists, Church of Scotland, Free Church and Salvation Army representatives we each choose different ways of celebrating our Sabbath.

Some go to St Andrew’s Memorial Church, some to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, one to the Armenian Cathedral of St James and one travels out on a bus to the Pat Ba’Melach Bakery at Gush Etzion, about 10 miles outside Jerusalem to bake bread.

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A Dean Sandwich (Wakefield & Lichfield). Can’t you just tell we are Anglicans

My choice is St George’s Cathedral, and a group of us take the Light Railway to the Damascus Gate, from there a five minute walk to the cathedral. We are running a little late and arrive just as the procession is forming at the back of the church, but are shown to the spare seats… at the front.

The service is led by the Dean, the Very Revd Hosam Naoum, the very first indigenous Dean of the Cathedral, having been born in Galilee. All around us I can hear American voices, but also Arabic, and we are told that the service will be in English and Arabic, sometimes spoken in one language and then translated into the other (the sermon); sometimes starting one response in one language and then finishing with the other; and sometimes using both languages at the same time (the hymns). It sounds like a bit of a nightmare to follow, but actually it works well and I am reminded of Pentecost.

The service finishes with a voluntary, Widor’s Toccata from his 5th Symphony in F, expertly played by the cathedral’s female organist and which drew a round of applause from the 200 congregants leaving the building, then out into the sunshine. Adrian Dorber, the current Dean of Lichfield spend one of his sabbaticals in Jerusalem and offered to show us one of the hidden gems in the Old City for an after service coffee.

IMG_7520I have to say that all the time I have been in Jerusalem I have felt completely safe, whether moving through the souks and different  quarters or riding on the Light Railways, rubbing shoulders literally with people ofIMG_7591 all faiths and none. You also become used to the presence of armed soldiers on entrances and corners throughout the city However, on the way back to the Damascus gate, we passed the American Consulate in Jerusalem, a heavily fortified entrance which brings back a reminder of the tensions that exist in this region.

And then you find yourself in a complete oasis of peace and tranquillity.

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Behind this very unprepossessing door is the Austrian Hospice. A slice of European elegance, built in the style of Vienna’s Ringstrasse palaces it houses its own Viennese coffee-house and terrace. Here you can sit in lush gardens and sip coffee and sample delicious pastries. The busy city is hushed and almost hidden from view.

For five shekels more you can visit the rooftop with its incredible views over the whole of the city. On this day the city shimmers in the heat and you can almost believe that the world is at peace.

Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
Hebrews 12:14

 

Day Five – Shabbat Shalom

Shabbat Meal

Coming from a country where the Sabbath is no longer really considered a day of rest, what with shops opening twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and sports events filling the whole weekend, it is strange to find myself in a country where it is almost a compulsory observance.

As part of our course we had been invited to join the Kehillat Yedidya (Friend of God) community in the Baka neighbourhood in Southern Jerusalem at their evening prayers and afterwards to join with members of the community in their homes to celebrate the Shabbat meal.

But the preparations for  Shabbat started a few hours before that with most workers finishing by 2pm. At Yad Vashem we packed up our notes and made our way with the stream of visitors and staff leaving the museum. It was already obvious that things were winding down as the traffic was flowing more freely as the roads emptied.

Yedidya Synagogue

Our arrival by coach was quite conspicuous as all around us people were walking in preparation for the fact that no vehicles are allowed to be driven during Shabbat. We were greeted and welcomed by Dr Ophir Yarden* who had lectured to us earlier in the week. Founded in 1980 The Modern Orthodox congregation of the synagogue is made up of 195 households comprised mainly of immigrants from English-speaking countries, including Britain and America; many European countries, and some native Israelis.

We were led into the main hall where the Qabbalat Shabbat (Welcoming the Sabbath) had already begun with the singing  of the Yedid Nefesh (Opening Hymn) and were divided into men and women’s sections. This gender differentiation is normal for orthodox Jews, however despite this practical inequality, this community do recognise the validity of women’s voices being heard, as the homily was delivered by a woman

I soon realised how very hard it is to follow a service not only in a foreign language but also trying to read the Hebrew Alphabet at speed – something I failed miserably to do with my limited knowledge. I, therefore, just let the melodic sounds and harmonies of the sung psalms wash over me – a real change from plainchant.

After the service we were walked to our hosts homes, about 15 minutes away off of the Hebron Road. Now shared out in pairs, Angie and I were welcomed by Elise and Moshe, both originally from American, and their sons Jacob, David and Noam. Two more friends of the family also joined us.

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The Shabbat candles had already been lit (no later than 18 minutes before sundown) and as we sat down the family sang Shalom Aleichem (Peace be unto you), a welcome and offer of hospitality to the angels who they believe accompany us. Moshe also took the opportunity to bless his children, as he had been away on business overseas and had only arrived home that afternoon. The translated words he used were very familiar… it is the same blessing I would use for those coming up to the Communion rail.

The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace
Numbers 6:24-26

The Kiddush was then recited over a large cup of organic grape juice, before being divided among us and then we were invited to wash our hands with a two-handled cup, once on the top and once on the bottom of each hand, after which we were to keep silent until the two loaves of Challah bread had also been cut and a piece given to everyone. Now the meal could begin.

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The Challah loaf was delicious, Elise having made it earlier in the day. A fish dish was followed by an orange and vegetable soup and then chicken with rice, prunes and beans. Clear tea (without milk) was then served with a short extemporisation by Moshe concerning his namesake Moses, before prayers ended the meal.

It was a real privilege to join in such an intimate meal with a Elise and Moshe’s family and after we had finished our conversations on the differences between Anglicanism and Methodism (Angie is a Methodist Minister) and the reasons why they chose to come and settle in Israel 29 years ago, the fact that Moshe could not set foot in Hebron or Bethlehem, and the surprise and delight Elise had when two women priests turned up (she was expecting men) we were walked to the Hebron Road to hail a taxi to take us back to the hotel (the taxi driver was non-Jewish).

Somehow these occasions help to break down barriers and mistrust between people of  faith, when people talk first as human beings and then as adherents of different religions with a common root.

Shabbat Shalom
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Please note that none of the images used in this blog were taken on the evening as the use of mobile phones or indeed any technology is prohibited and it would have been considered bad manners to use it as a camera, so it remained off, in my bag.

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*Dr Ophir Yarden is the Director of Education at ADAShA (meaning ‘lens’ in Hebrew and Arabic) The Jerusalem Centre for Interreligious Encounter. He is active is Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.