Dear Friends …
I hope your summer has been as good as mine. Even leaving aside my trip back to see family in Texas and Georgia, I have to confess that one of the joys of the British summer is the complete dearth of meetings in August. (Much as I love my work, it’s never really been the meetings that made it worth it.) I’ve always believed that “remember[ing] the Sabbath and keep[ing] it holy” is one of God’s more important commandments, albeit perhaps more in a general sense than in the sense of being specific about particular days and hours. However you may personally arrange to find breathing space in a busy life and world, the Sabbath ranks high amongst God’s commandments precisely because it feeds into the basic needs and nature of humanity: human beings need time and space to pause, reflect, sleep, and (indeed) to worship not least by seeking out the holiness in the large and small things of God’s creative purpose.
But, it is equally true that “to everything there is a season”, and we find ourselves rapidly approaching the time of harvest, which will quickly be followed by All Saints, and All Souls, and Advent, and Christmas and … and … and … . The period will require work from us all, whether in our liturgy, our music, our fundraising, or our community outreach, and that, too, is a part of the cycle of life, creation, and redemption. A season of Sabbath re-fits us, but a forever-Sabbath would ultimately lead to aimlessness.
Both of these points have been combined beautifully in our Sunday readings through most of the summer. Through the imagery of the bread of life, these readings has called us to reflect, yes, but to reflect specifically on Christ’s hands-on involvement in the work and redemption of creation: “for my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed”. These are strong words; is it any wonder that some of his outer circle walked away saying “This is a hard teaching!”?
Yet, perhaps Christ’s point in using such raw language is to suggest that God’s work — far from being so ethereal and spiritual that it can barely be grasped — is, rather, the opposite: by the Spirit’s power God, in Christ who walked the earth, and in the sacrament we celebrate to this day, presents himself in physical form — a form that can be touched, held, met, and indeed tasted. This point is not, of course, to lay aside the spiritual truths of God’s subtle and distinctive power over all creation, nor his love for us and for his world. But it does suggest that these things are accessible through surprisingly ordinary means: bread, wine, water, the human form, our own systems of nourishment and life.
The God who has commanded us to rest in the Sabbath — to reflect on his holiness, and to throw ourselves into his joy in creation — also reveals himself as the God who uses our very means of existence as the way to engage with the holiness. And, what’s more, he calls us to join in the work. At the Eucharist, as the priest prepares the table, he or she often prays silently that Christ “who humbled himself to share in our humanity” may unite us, so that “we may share in Christ’s divinity.” This is the story that we play out weekly in our celebration of the Holy Eucharist, and this is the story that we play out as we do all the work of the Church. The sacrament of Sabbath reminds us that, in everything we say or do during the rest of the week, we have the potential — and the vocation — to live our Christ’s love in hard, solid form. For Christ to have said, “my flesh is food indeed” means that the ordinary things of earth may be, with our prayers and God’s blessing, formed into the foretaste of heaven.
This is the case when we meet and laugh, when we walk with our neighbours in their struggles, when we proclaim Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection to the world. As the summer fades, therefore, and the work of the church year, the school year, the harvest, and the business world resume, the call therefore is to bring the lessons of our reflections and rest into the practice of our lives, and thereby bring in tangible ways both large and minute the hope of God’s redemption to a world that needs Good News. Thank you all for joining me on the journey, and for the hard work I know that you all put in.