Rest is a lovely thing.
Real rest means not being anxious about the things still to do.
It’s an odd remark, though. How can Jesus give us rest? Is it like a mother insisting that her babies take their afternoon nap?
It’s a call away from the whole busyness of life, a summons out of the whole rat race of living. Here’s Eugene Peterson’s marvellous rendering:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Jesus is offering the choice to leave anxiety behind.
But I still have so much to do!
The thought reminds me of that story in Luke 10: “Martha had a sister called Mary, who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word. But Martha was distracted with all her preparations; and she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to do all the serving alone? Then tell her to help me.” But the Lord answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things…”
I remember preaching on this passage and, afterwards, as we had tea and biscuits, an old lady shook her head roguishly, saying, “Ah but that’s a man talking, isn’t it? So who’ll make the tea?”
But it’s not the doing. It’s the worrying.
Walter Brueggeman wrote a powerful little book called Sabbath as Resistance. He reflects on the call to rest that is enshrined in Ten Commandments as the law to “Keep Sabbath.”
“Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”
Isn’t that interesting? There’s a choice drawn between the Pharoah way and the God way. He continues:
“Thus I have come to think that the fourth commandment on sabbath is the most difficult and most urgent of the commandments in our society, because it summons us to intent and conduct that defies the most elemental requirements of a commodity-propelled society that specializes in control and entertainment, bread and circuses … along with anxiety and violence.”
A commodity-propelled society! Look at those acres of magazines spread across the racks in your local supermarket. Don’t they tell us the same truth? Don’t they show the things that rule and reign in our restless world? Sex of course, plenty of that. Fashion, food, gadgets, stuff, home and gardens, stuff…
Wherever God rules as an alternative to Pharaoh, there the restfulness of God effectively counters the restless anxiety of Pharaoh. “ Come unto me, and I’ll show you rest.”
Even before the Commandments are given (in Exodus 20), the intro makes the point: This is the God “who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
Here’s Brueggeman: “The way of mammon (capital, wealth) is the way of commodity that is the way of endless desire, endless productivity, and endless restlessness without any Sabbath. Jesus taught his disciples that they could not have it both ways.”
We used to sing the hymn “Take Time to Be Holy,” but perhaps we should be singing, “Take time to be human.” Or finally, “Take time.” Sabbath is taking time … time to be holy … time to be human again.