“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” – Gen. 2:1-3
Today is the first day of summer, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year. This afternoon at 1:16 pm, the Sun reaches its most northern point in the sky. After this date, the days start getting shorter. Although in DC, we feel the summer heat and humidity a few weeks earlier than farther north. In Potomac, I can plant my vegetable garden a full month earlier than I did in Boston and continue to harvest a few weeks longer. I just love summer and savor every day, for the days of summer take on a quality that other times of the year don’t offer. The heat and humidity invites, or demands, that we slow down a bit, take walks and naps in the shade. Everywhere you read messages to relax and enjoy your “summer vacation”, your “summer reading” and “cool summer foods”. Life seems more casual with fewer expectations. Summer services at churches are often combined because parishioners are away, and they wish us, “Farewell”, as they depart for summer cottages on the beach. As the Rev. Loren Mead said in his sermon this past Sunday, “after Trinity Sunday, we can go bare foot”. Summer is a time to observe the Sabbath that even God took after finishing all the work done in creation. How do you find and observe Sabbath time in your life?
Several years ago I had the privilege of taking a three month Sabbatical from my parish ministry in Massachusetts. Sabbaticals are part of the job agreement of many professions, and clergy often take 3 months every 5 years. My Sabbatical had been planned and the parish was prepared. The responsibilities of lay leaders were expanded as appropriate, guest preachers filled in, and I was released from any responsibilities. The first month was the hardest – I found it difficult NOT to work and to relax; it was difficult NOT to think about what was probably going on without me, and to focus on other things; I found it difficult NOT to line up projects for my Sabbatical. I thought I was essential to the life and ministry of my parish, and so I prayed for them and they prayed for me. Perhaps some of you can identify with the adjustment needed when taking an extended vacation from your responsibilities – no meetings, no coffee or tea, and no adrenalin. I discovered how tired I really was, and slept long hours every night. The next three months were much easier and the sabbatical was beneficial for me and for the parish. New lay leadership emerged and the parish did fine without me. I rediscovered personal interests that I hadn’t had time for, and I exercised every day. When I returned from my Sabbatical, I preached on God’s commandment to rest on the Sabbath, and on the emotional and spiritual necessity to take as much of a weekly Sabbath as our lives will permit. I realized that if I had taken a Sabbath day every week (no work, no chores, no errands) and had rested and spent more time with my family, I wouldn’t have needed a Sabbatical.
In spite of technological advances and time-saving gadgets, we seem to have less time for pleasure, rest and relationships than we did before the microwave, cell phones, laptop computers and online shopping. They were not intended to replace rest and recreation. Remember, even “God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” May these three summer months, beginning today, be the beginning of your sabbatical. Don’t let your 1, 2 or 3 week vacation be the only rest you get. Build a day, or a morning, or an afternoon of total rest into your week, every week. Don’t answer the phone or check email messages – take a walk or a nap instead, and thank God for all the blessings in your life and for the beauty of God’s creation.