This Sunday, we blessed Father Tim and Cheryl and released them for a three-month period of sabbatical rest. Two summers ago, I was also granted a sabbatical. My initial reasons for asking were pretty clear: we expected our fourth son in the end of the summer, and I still needed to do a lot of work toward my doctoral thesis-project. During that time, I was able to spend the first two months completing the research component of the project and spend a solid month at home, focused on caring for my family.
I was surprised at how restful the time was, even with the thesis-project and the baby. But it wasn’t the kind of rest you get from a good night’s sleep; it was the rest you get when a weight is taken off your shoulders for a period of time. In this case, I didn’t realize the significance of that weight until I had the chance to set it down.
Being a priest is not the sort of job that you can pick up and then set down easily. Much of what we are doing is hard to measure—the care and the formation of souls, the leadership of the life of a church community. When we go home, that responsibility, and the eternal significance that it carries, is still there. When we rise to pray in the morning, there it is, and when we seek to lay down burdens at the end of the day, there are the burdens of an entire congregation. Even when we develop healthy boundaries, patterns of recreation and quality time for our families, it is still there for any true pastor. In 2 Corinthians 11:28, after listing a whole slew of trials that he faced, including beatings, stoning, imprisonment and shipwreck, Saint Paul tops the list off with these words: “And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.”
Daily pressure. That’s what was gone. Even with a thesis-project and a new baby, it was a time of rest because that healthy but heavy weight of care had been temporarily lifted. I regained strength that I hadn’t realized I was missing and have been able to carry that strength into the two fairly demanding years that followed. It is good for Fr. Tim to get this same type of rest—and it will be good for us to have a rested Rector. I was impressed by how well the entire congregation honored my period of rest. People didn’t call, didn’t text, didn’t stop by. I was a literal mile away from the church, but I felt a world away. We can do that for Father Tim as well. And as he observes his sabbatical, I am inviting the entire congregation to set apart this summer as a season of rest.
See, we usually read the fourth commandment as individualists: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work.” God is telling his people to rest, to stop periodically and enjoy God’s good gifts and the fruit of our labors. Except it doesn’t end there. God continues by telling who it is that shall do no work: “You, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.”
We do not honor God’s command to rest simply by stopping from our own personal work while others wear themselves down. We honor God’s command when we ensure that not only we, but also the others in our community can rest. This means we must be willing to (a) receive rest, and (b) give rest to each other.
Receiving Rest. If I say the words, “Daily Pressure,” something probably comes to your mind. While it may be work, there is probably something else as well. Rest means stepping back from whatever “daily pressure” we face. Perhaps they are even things that we enjoy. Perhaps some of these daily pressures even happen at Christ the Redeemer! The choir rehearses and sings for us virtually every week—they get the summer off. We have catechists who serve with our children every Sunday—they each get about two months off. We don’t attempt to offer meals over the summer—the hospitality ministry rests. If you are experiencing “daily pressure” at Christ the Redeemer, if you are exerting your energy every week to serve others, if you are worn out or simply know that you may get worn out if you just keep going, we want you to get some rest.
It may be that you are experiencing that “daily pressure” somewhere else, perhaps at home. We have friends who simply need to rest from their parenting responsibilities. They are going for a 10-day trip to Europe and leaving the children at home. These are people who take rest seriously.
Giving Rest. But if all we do is tell each other to receive rest, rest will not happen; people will simply feel guilty for working. We must give rest. As I see it, there are two main ways that we can give rest. First, we can release each other to rest. This means asking for less from each other. It means telling the choir that we’ll really be okay doing more congregational singing for the summer. It means reducing the scope of ministries like Catechesis so that the burden on our Catechists is less. It means trying out a new restaurant or inviting friends over for lunch while the hospitality volunteers head home.
But giving rest also means that we, in the words of St. Paul, “bear one another’s burdens.” Our friends are going to Europe for ten days; we will be caring for their children in that time. Father Tim is on sabbatical; members of our pastoral team are working together to make sure that the spiritual care of our congregation continues in his absence, according to the vision he has shared with us. Our Catechists will be getting time off; a number of others will be volunteering to serve, maybe for a week or two, so that the Catechists don’t have to. Our nursery is short-staffed and a small number of already-exhausted parents have been filling the gap; there are people who don’t have children at home who would truly enjoy the opportunity to serve the little ones and could provide a bit of relief. Sometimes we grant rest by demanding less; sometimes we grant it by offering to do something that is not a great burden to us, to take that burden off of somebody else.
Receiving and giving rest. This is the way of life to which God calls us. It is the way of joy.