Have you ever been to a family gathering… maybe a holiday like thanksgiving or Christmas? maybe a birthday party for a friend or family member? Invariably – at these types of gatherings, we usually notice that someone is missing… someone who we expected to see. someone we WANTED to see.
we feel something in this absence. it’s not the same as a coworker who calls in sick on the day where you have a crucial project to complete. that feeling is frustration – maybe even anger. and yet… we feel something in the absence. we feel that the gathering, while still enjoyable or fun or exciting… is somehow LESS than it could have been – less than it SHOULD have been. and the more the missing person means to us – the closer the bond – the greater that feeling seems to be.
we’ve all felt this… sometimes we’ve even been the missing person. it’s not the end of the world. it doesn’t ruin the party… and yet we notice.
love is connection. these gatherings – when they are best – are little markers of the communities we are born into – or the communities we chose. if someone we love is missing the picture is not quite right. like a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle with one piece missing. mostly we see the picture complete – but – it is tough NOT to notice that one missing piece. at least for some of us.
families… all communities are, by nature, sacramental. Sacraments – in general terms – are simply ways to mark significant or meaningful events. we celebrate birthdays and weddings – funerals – graduations – retirement – anniversaries – the list goes on. we observe the sacraments because something in us needs to mark these events in community – with others who care about the things we care about… who love the people and things we love.
the church has many sacraments – high church and low. we baptize – we take communion – we mark those events on our spiritual journey that matter. but maybe the deepest and most mysterious sacrament is Sabbath.
"In the Jewish world-view something strange begins to happen. Cycles of festivals are markers on the bigger framework. Think of a bicycle wheel, which goes round and round; each time it goes around it moves the bicycle forward along the line. So every Sabbath is a turn of the wheel but also another step along the road from the first Sabbath on which God rested, to the final one, the rest for the people of God." ~N.T. Wright
Sabbath is a sacrament that marks the cycle of our week – it marks a fresh start – a day to regroup – to put last week away and renew hope for the week to come. it is a day to cease “doing” and to concentrate on “being”
"Like most people, I work and think too much. Sunday morning can be a fast from a constant concern for productivity. If I let go of my need for agreement on everything that happens in church, I can sit and rest in the sermon, I can sing and be moved by the chorus of voices, regardless of the song. The sanctuary really is a refuge from the hecklers and hucksters in workaday consumer society. It is non-productive space. For me, it can be a deliberate time set aside to meet God in the present moment, but only if I can let go of the need to have everything my way." ~aiden enns
Sabbath is, in some ways, a chance to check out – but NOT to be alone. Sacraments – no matter where we found them, are almost always experienced in community. In families. We seem to know, deep in our being, that things worth marking need to be marked with those we love. I have never been inclined to celebrate my birthday alone. I once spent a thanksgiving alone – worst day of my life. sacraments are little celebrations… and Sabbath is celebration. celebration of the coming rest of God – when his kingdom is fully experienced – when heaven and earth finally kiss and embrace. it is also a celebration of remembrance – like a birthday or an anniversary.
The Sabbath is a reminder of the two worlds--this world and the world to come; it is an example of both worlds. For the Sabbath is joy, holiness, and rest; joy is part of this world; holiness and rest are something of the world to come. ~Abraham Joshua Heschel
but Sabbath is not a solitary celebration. it is not a private marker. we have those to be sure – Mary hid the things she heard in her heart – but Sabbath is a celebration that needs community…
"The soul cannot celebrate alone" ~Abraham Joshua Heschel
celebration requires community – we need to celebrate with others who care – who love the things that we love – who celebrate the things we celebrate. when we hear stories from the bed project – we celebrate. when we think about lora and adam’s wedding… we celebrate. and our celebration is made more meaningful by those we celebrate with. the soul cannot celebrate alone…
but, as bishop wright explained – Sabbath is the turning of a wheel and there is a cyclical rhythm. we need community to celebrate Sabbath – but also, as Dallas Willard says:
"You can’t have community without Sabbath." ~Dallas Willard
Sabbath needs community – but it is also a place where community is born. it is where we connect in real and practical ways as we visit over coffee – catch up on each other's lives – yes it is practical connection – but it is so much more. when we join our voices in prayer or song – when we take the bread and the cup – we are bound together more deeply than we could ever imagine. it is supernatural – it is mystery – it is, as my charismatic friends used to say, a “GOD THING” it is, if you can get this, the kind of bond that caused john the Baptist to leap in his mother’s womb in the presence of the unborn Christ-child. it is a bond of heart and soul and spirit. it is the bond that makes us one just as jesus and the father are one. and it is the way the world will know that the father sent jesus… and that he sends us.
the Christian church long ago moved their Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday – from the last day of the week to the first. I am not going to get into the history of that change, however… I think it may be significant for us…
Sabbath is not an end… it is a beginning.
Last week – after we all floated the buffalo river - during that half awake/half asleep time last weekend, I had a kind of vision – or at least a picture. I have been thinking a lot about Sundays and I guess the float worked its way into my thinking. I saw the church as a river – like the Arkansas river. The part of the river over in Colorado – near the source – is wild and thrilling. It cut the royal gorge and is some of the best whitewater rafting in the country. But as the river moves downstream – it widens and flattens. The land around it flattens – it becomes less a source of fun and entertainment and more of a source of commerce – usefulness. Maybe our Sunday gatherings are those wild and thrilling waters of the source but they must move us toward something more useful – more connected to meeting a whole ecosystem of needs. Maybe it is in the delta that we build beds and feed the hungry and house the young women at Miss Beverly’s House. Maybe it is the inertia that begins in the Sunday headwaters that moves god’s mission forward in the flat plain of the delta.
Sabbath is our headwater – but we can’t anchor here – we must flow down river and allow these waters to make the deserts fertile… to be joined by other rivers with other waters. to give life and health… to be useful. and… the delta waters – if you know anything about rivers – are still filled with currents – still unpredictable – the power of the headwaters still lives and breathes in the delta – but it becomes deeper – more unseen – but always churning and pulsing below the surface.
on the buffalo – we were not all able to make it. if you weren’t there… we had a blast – but it was less than it could have been. we missed you. it’s like that every time we go to the river – every time we put our canoe in the Sabbath waters. we are glad for those who join us – and we deeply miss those who could not. we come to the water to celebrate – to enter into Sabbath – but we need each other to make the celebration complete.