This summer I’m preaching for one of the congregations in our region. I wonder if folks there questioned their decision to invite me when they learned my first sermon with them would be about rest.
I can imagine them thinking: “Rest? Really? Given all that’s going on in the world, that’s the best she could come up with?”
In my defense, I used a text from the lectionary for that Sunday. Plus, the sermon was the first in a series I planned about what happens when the season we call Ordinary Time isn’t ordinary.
While rest might not seem like the most obvious topic, I do wonder.
I wonder what rest means at a time when we feel restless. Restless because we’ve been at home for months and separated from people we love. Restless because we we’re unsettled by the unknown and unsure when things might get better.
I wonder what rest means at a time when we’re surrounded by unrest. Unrest that’s been sparked by violence played out in front of our eyes. Unrest that reveals great divides that we’ve too often ignored or attempted to hide.
Sometimes wondering helps me take a fresh look at a scripture text I’ve read countless times.
What happens on the seventh day of the creation story in Genesis? God rests. End of story.
But when I read it again, there it was: “On the seventh day God finished God’s work.” Not just a day off. Something still needed finishing.
After a little more reading, I discovered that ancient rabbis taught that on the seventh day, God created menuha—tranquility, serenity, peace. It wasn’t until the creation of this deep and healing peace that God's work was complete.
I think it's this kind of rest that God invites us to share. To be surprised by the unexpected nature of God’s creative grace. To enter into moments when creation renews itself. To open ourselves to God’s unending promise of life that emerges from emptiness.
Still a little more reading led me to Wayne Muller’s beautiful book about finding rest in our lives. He notes that our willingness to rest depends on what we believe we’ll find there: “If we believe life is fundamentally good, we will seek out rest as a taste of that goodness. If we believe life is fundamentally bad or flawed, we will be reluctant to quiet ourselves, afraid of meeting the darkness that resides in things—or in ourselves.”
Muller’s words reminded me of a friend who’s a Catholic theologian. Once when we were discussing the difference between Catholic and Protestant theology, she pointed out that one starts in the garden while the other starts with the fall. (That set me on the path to realizing that this Baptist might have some Catholic in her theology.)
I see goodness running through the creation story. Over and over God acts, steps back, and rests after seeing the goodness of that portion of creation. God calls forth light, separates it from the darkness, steps back, and sees that it’s good. God makes a place for heaven and earth, separates sea and land, steps back, and sees that it’s good. God creates the sun and moon, all living creatures, man and woman—and each time steps back and sees that it’s good.
It seems to me that God's rest invites us to step back and see that same goodness.
That doesn't mean ignoring the pain and grief that surround us. Or turning a blind eye to the injustice and broken systems that exist around us.
Instead, this kind of rest invites us to take a step back to help get a different perspective. One in which we remember we’re not alone, but rather part of the larger creation that God has declared as good. A perspective in which we recall that over and over God brings life out of emptiness and offers us opportunities to begin again.
And maybe as we take a step back and rest, we’ll find new energy to engage in God’s ongoing creative work—even when we have a hard time seeing anything good in our world. And in the midst of the crises of this not-so-ordinary time, we’ll discover the imagination necessary to begin yet another cycle of life—even when in the moment all we can see is emptiness.