One question in the Gospel today is about the right way to observe the Sabbath; and the question for us is how can we regularly get from the nonstop noise and numbers of our busy world into the deep peace and promise of God’s time? Today I want offer some simple ways to practice sabbath, each growing into the other, that can change the way you live your daily life.
Start with your breath, with each breath; and take it in as a gift from God: see that it’s the same breath that creates the world, heals the nations, forgives sin, welcomes the stranger, renews the world. Because there’s no other breath, no other world and no other creator. So we take this breath, like our soul, our body of flesh and blood, all the details of our lives, as a gift from God, just in order to just let it go.
But hold it for an instant before you do that. Take each breath as a gift and savour it for a second before you ask this question, just what does Jesus do? Because in every breath we can share his rhythm of receiving and relinquishing, of taking life and death as a give-away gift. In truth we can’t really live our lives in any other manner; we’re designed and built to carry this gift of God by giving it away; it’s almost beyond belief; that God calls us to share even love life and spirit with people and place and predicaments who are all profoundly unworthy, just because God is utterly shameless in giving it all away to everyone and God seems to have the ultimate chutzpah to ask us to do the same.
But leave that aside for now and let’s use more of our body. Make the sign of the cross with your right hand, two directions, up and down, left right, can’t get much simpler than that; but it can carry some deep meaning; because what we do can carry what we believe, and we can mark ourselves and the world with that meaning, with what we believe with our thumbs, or hands, our arms, our whole bodies and lives, Marking the world, remembering Sabbath in two dimensions: move up to remember a world higher than any heaven you can concenive where God creates everything, then wide to the sides as God’s love in Christ, and finally back to the centre by the Spirit who constantly calls us home again.
You can start by naming yourself that way when you enter or leave the church (that’s what the water in the stoup by the main door is for), and you can do it three times when you stand to hear the Gospel: “May I hear your word in my head, speak it with my lips, believe in my whole heart and life;” the words might change but the sabbath you hold will abide. You can even do it at a door before you ring the bell, on top of the table, on someone’s forehead, do it whenever you want, wherever you can, to remember God’s love as God’s beloved.
Now to add another dimension to making sabbath, reciting the Lord’s Prayer has something of the sign of the cross in its motions too. But listen to the prayer like you've never heard it before and see how well it points to a three dimensional mystery.
“Our Father in Heaven” actually is a prayer to the “Dadda of the Universe.” It’s saying that the realm of this relationship is so big and small and intimate that the creator of the cosmos invites us to call out with a word as familiar as Mamma or Papa. Here God comes close enough to call under any circumstances and at any time with this openhearted, openhanded invitation to meet love in the middle of all our lives!
Then we proclaim three imperatives (and feel free to do hand gestures if you like): may your name be holy, may your love reign, and may I take part that this will be done. Do you see what’s happening? The prayer is weaving the world into one, weaving love into our daily lives as well as weaving us into the world of Sabbath saints, and pilgrims: like Mary, “Be it unto me according to your word,” and like Francis, “Make me an instrument of your peace,” — again, God is love, we deliver!
But now there's a necessary stretch where we go from the vertical to the horizontal, and I would say universal, in three requests that take us to three further dimensions of being human.
First request, “Give us today our daily bread.” Just remember food means company: the bread we eat, the wine we drink means grapes and water, yeast and fat and oil and wheat, mixed and kneaded, warmed and transformed, with many backs bent; many hands stretched out to offer food at our daily tables. So when Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood!” I think He is saying “I am willing to be known in this Eucharist, and I tell you I will be here, but prepare to meet me in the entire world, because in my love I have taken up with the body and blood of all humankind and all creation.” So then when we pray, “Give us today our daily bread” we’re asking God to let us know who we're eating with -- everyday, everywhere, every time.
Second request, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” Take a big breath here because every every crossroad, every Sabbath means rest and renewal and forgiveness and a new beginning; and it is best (as co-creators) if we can participate in that creative renewal as much as we can and let everyone else do so too. And that means participating in God’s forgiveness business as fully as we participate in the rest of God’s creation, even when it’s tough, meaning we allow people, even people we think have sinned against us, to go free to seek their own Sabbath, go their own way.
And I’ll warn you it goes steep uphill from here. The third request is, “Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” So take a another deep breath, savour, let it go because the truth is, nobody wants to go there — but the glory of the community of the church comes when we all gather in the very place where sabbath makes an end, where God grants a new beginning, right there in the dead centre where we find out that nobody has to go there alone!
Because every time we gather, when we pray, when we share with Jesus, it happens: someone is betrayed and dying, someone is born and wanting, someone’s in trial and someone’s been tempted, someone’s found peace and someone wakes to glory. And God's love is in the middle, sharing the bread of life, the cup of salvation, given by the very one who knows all about it, the one who is carrying us all the way through the time of trial, just like a good friend, a mother hen, the very breath of life, all the way home.
That's it, how to do Sabbath; to paraphrase St. Augustine: Believe what you see, see what you believe and become what you are… For when we say, “Amen," we are saying, "Yes! I believe this is the Body and Blood of Christ and I will be the Body of Christ to others," and it is our own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table, it is our own mystery that we are receiving! For here we are saying ‘Amen’ to what we are, and Sabbath comes once again.