Rector's Reflections: Rest, Worship, and the Presence of God
Beloved People of St. Martin's,
A couple of weeks ago in the lectionary, Jesus had sent the apostles out to evangelize: it is evident from the start of this Sunday's gospel reading that they have returned.
And it sounds like they are exhausted—exhilarated, but exhausted. That’s why Jesus sees what they need, and prescribes a little quiet time with God as just the thing to recharge their batteries.
It is a fact that we Americans in particular define ourselves by our work, and take great pride in how productive and busy we can be. Maybe too proud. We work longer hours on average per week and per year than almost any other industrialized nation, and take fewer hours of vacation than workers in almost any other industrialized nation-- in fact, most industrialized countries MANDATE a minimum number of paid days off for leave and holidays.
We already have a hard time separating our work lives from our personal lives. COVID19 has made that worse. Many of us worked from our homes-- if we didn't undergo layoffs. And some of us discovered that working from home saves time in commuting and eating out. But it can be hard to log off, and so for many workers, work now stretches into the evenings and weekends. This certainly happened in my case, and I suspect many of you had similar experiences.
This can serious effects not just on our family life but also on our health and our friendships. Our gospel this Sunday will remind us that this holds true no matter how important we believe our work to be.
God knows I am tired, and I know most of you all are too. But there are some important implications of Jesus's invitation to the apostles to come away and rest. Once again, the importance of sabbath being made for human benefit as well as thanksgiving to God are jointly emphasized.
in fact, the 17th century story of Brother Lawrence reminds us that if we can make all we do a way of celebrating and communing with the presence of God, we will find any task not only more pleasant but also liturgical. Brother Lawrence was a lay brother in a monastery. His job was not to copy great books or teach the faith. his humble job was working in the kitchen, peeling potatoes and doing the dishes for the support of the community. Yet the monks around him noticed how serenely happy he was even in the most humble task. Brother Lawrence insisted that God was as much present when he was peeling potatoes as when he was praying and praising in chapel. (I recommend this book to you: you can download it for free from Project Gutenberg here.)
In terms of our life together at St. Martin's, we are hoping to increase our chances for fellowship: for resting together, eating together, worshiping together. That was the agenda Jesus had in mind when he invites his apostles to come away together with him to get away from the demands of work to refresh and renew themselves.
But also it reminds us that our worship life is not simply a matter of a liturgy being produced by a few people while the rest watch. Liturgy is the work and product of all the people participating together: attending to the prayers, listening to what we pray and enacting that ethic into our lives, and caring for each other so that we can continue as a parish to do our vital work in the world. But it also involves each and every one of us contributing to that liturgy of our time and treasure so that the group is stronger than ever even after the long crisis we are still going through.
That is why I am asking each of you to consider the list below and offer up some of your abilities for the common worship life of this parish-- they are called worship "services" for a reason. One of the best ways to refresh ourselves is to spend some time with God. That can be through prayer, of course-- even if that prayer is lighting the altar candles, carrying the cross in procession, or vacuuming the carpet in the chapel and disinfecting the altar rail.
Come, pray with us.