Robert's Letter for September
Today is the first day of my holidays. Well it will be once I've managed to get through the last few tasks that will permit me to leave with a sense of peace. It has been an unusual year, for most of it I have been doing simply what has to be done, with little space for anything new or even what might be considered otherwise as routine. I feel I have been “fire fighting” for most of this time and that is an energy sapping process, so the holidays have come just at the right time. Hopefully I will return with much more energy at the end of August.
We all need a break at some point, holidays are important to us all. It gives the opportunity for a change of focus and pace. Though I have to say that some people's ideas of holidays seem oddly full of activity. I said to someone recently that “not all holidays are restful”. Well those who need their space to burn off surplus energy probably wouldn't want to have the sort of holiday I look forward to. It is not that we don't do anything; more the pace at which we do it is much more sedate.
There is much written and said today about our “work life balance”. We did a Lent course on it a few years ago. Though the title seems a little strange, almost as though work is not really part of life, yet we all have to work to live even if we don't love our jobs enough to live for work! Perhaps it would be better expressed as a work rest balance and that would show that life is made up of both.
It is important to get this right because we live in a world that seeks to fill time with activity. We do not seem content unless we are filling every hour of everyday with something. The 24/7 culture seems to grow and grow. Of course we can't personally do life in that way but we do rather like the idea that we can get what we want at pretty much anytime of the day and night. Friends of mine in Leicester, my home city, talked once approvingly of the ability to visit certain areas of the city to find shops open and willing to sell you what they could at the strangest hour. The problem is, for all our expectations to be fulfilled, someone else has to be working to make the provision.
For some people their way of working is to strive like crazy for most of the working week cutting out social activity unless it is work directed and then flop for the weekend. Even then with modern communications we are able to stay in touch with what is going on, responding rapidly to each call, text or email. Through it all the Government is trying to get us to increase our productivity, in other words, work more - work harder.
The Bible has a different approach. The Sabbath is a day simply to stop. I don't believe that this ever meant not doing anything, rather more about having the freedom to say “I don't have to do today that which can be left for another day”. In the Old Testament a man is punished because he is caught gathering firewood on the Sabbath. It seems to me that the man reveals in his actions where his priorities lie. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us, after being accused of being a Sabbath breaker that “The Sabbath Day was made for man, not man for the Sabbath Day.” Keeping the Sabbath is about accepting God's provision for you and enjoying what he gives.
Many people might say that keeping a Sabbath Day is not possible these days because of the complexities of society. Often people point to those who not only are required to work on the Sabbath but who we are really glad that they do. Such people work for the benefit of society in hospitals and care homes and all sorts of other places. My answer is that in a multicultural society it is first of all about rest. So long as facilities for rest are included in the package for those we require to work when we rest, then we are nearer to the heart of the matter. The key part of the whole debate is to ensure that everyone who we want to work get proper time off and their endeavours are not detrimental to anyone, including those whose wives/husbands are affected by those who don't get it right. That is not the end of the story. Recently we have heard of new pressures that are to be applied to keeping Sunday as a day that is special. It may be true that the religious sympathies of the nation have changed, but that again misses the point. Even people who work want to treat it as a special day, enjoying the limited hours and the higher rate at which they are paid. There is though something helpful and credible about having a day nationally that is run at a slower pace. In other words having a restful day that is largely kept by all means that we all benefit and if we agree to this why not keep it as Sunday, because in that way we keep with our own cultural heritage. We are after all supposed to appreciate our British values!
That though is not the last word for those of us who are Christians. The 10 Commandments included the injunction to keep the Sabbath Day Holy. We have already reflected that this as a provision for the needs of humankind, also reflects the way God works, because in creating the world in six days he chose to rest on the seventh. We can do nothing better than to imitate our Creator, but again we also know that is not always possible but we must do our very best. The Sabbath kept properly is about spending time with God. To do so empowers and enables us to live the rest of our lives knowing he is with us. This is what makes the Sabbath Holy and central to this are the times we gather to worship and celebrate the presence of God with us. In my sponsoring parish it was told how one vicar talked about how God calls us to join him around the Lord's Table each week and when someone is missing then that gathering is incomplete.
Once we get the full picture we see more clearly how valuable and important rest is. Surely then a day of slower pace helps keep that balance of work and rest. For the Christian though it is more, it is a place to meet with God revealed to us in His Son Jesus Christ. This holy rest though is but a foretaste of what is promised for eternity. The ultimate rest for Christians will be in our heavenly home where we shall always be in the presence of God and continually singing his praises.
When we have been there 10,000 years
Bright shining as the Sun
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun.
May the Lord richly bless you.