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Reflections on Rest

Tonight I led the evening service at St Clement’s and spoke on the theme of rest. Keeping to the goal of not making too much work for myself, here is the outline text I spoke from:

Bishop John, preaching at the confirmation service in July, referred to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11: “come to me all who weary and burdened and I will give you rest”. He gave an image of a rucksack, filled up with pressures but feeling lighter because it now contained grace, mercy and peace from Jesus. Is that true? It is what Jesus promised to his listeners. But is it what the church offers? Is it what St Clement’s offers? Are we a place where the weary can find rest or where the unwary are weighed down with further burdens?

Rest is important to God. You don’t have to read far into the Bible to discover that God creates the earth in six days; on the seventh he rests. You might want to interpret “days” as “eons of creation” but you can’t escape that not only is God described as resting but it is emphasised many times in later pages as an essential principle for us to follow. See the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:8-11. Not only is it a significant part of the decalogue but the theme is picked up several times: see 23:12 which places it in a social context (do we allow others to rest?) or 31:12-17 (particularly the stark message of v. 15).

For a culture which seems to worship leisure as one of its golden calves, we seem to be remarkably bad at it. We take for granted labour saving devices that earlier generations wouldn’t even have dreamed of but rarely do you hear a person claim to feel rested and refreshed. Even when we use some of the generous holiday provision that we take as our right, there is a sense that we need to go somewhere or do something. Even the things we might do to relax, like going to a concert, out for a meal or watching TV, rely on the fact that other people are working to support us. It isn’t all bad but it is a long way from the commandment and, judging from the results, it isn’t all good either.

Within the church, we are busy people. Maybe it is just me and a handful of others but, for most services I have to do some preparation and am likely to be doing something other than just showing up to worship God and enjoy fellowship. There is benefit in the work – a theme I will be speaking on in September – but do I set an example of godly rest? If I did less, would the load be shared with many or dumped on an even smaller few? Is God driving us or do we create a rod for our own backs?

For a New Testament reading, what about Hebrews 4? v1 is a key one although you need to ponder it in the context of preceding and following verses. I think that call to enter rest is something we should be pursuing now; it isn’t to be left until the time when, beyond our control, we “rest in peace”. God’s Word is quite serious about rest – let it be living and active to shape how we live (vv 12-13). That is the path that gives us access to what lies after the sweet “therefore” of v14ff.

A friend from SS Mary and John gave me a copy of their parish magazine, The Crucible, and I discovered that Bishop John had used the same passage and, probably, the same message the following week when he visited their confirmation service. He obviously finds ways of reusing the subjects he ponders, which is a good strategy for weaving a busy life that might possibly still find time to enjoy what is promised.

What about you? Are you rested or busy? Let us finish with Matthew 11:28-30 and ponder how we can test, prove and demonstrate the rich life our Saviour calls us to rather than merely talking about it.

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