Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Fr. Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
18 July 2021
Today’s Gospel presents a scene with which we are all too familiar. Jesus and his disciples are so busy that they don’t even have time to eat. How many times have we found ourselves so busy working or running around doing errands that we have to grab a quick bite or even miss a meal? We are told in the Gospel that “many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” So, Jesus tells his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). They get into a boat to get away from the crowd. But by the time they arrive at their destination, the people have beaten them to it.
Jesus and his disciples will have to forego their downtime in this episode. But throughout the Gospels, we find many instances of Jesus retreating to a quiet place for rest, away from the crowds. And what does Jesus do during these times of solitude? He prays. Rest, for Jesus, is not just an opportunity to take a break from work. It is an opportunity to renew and refresh himself as he communes with the Father. Rest is sacred, time alone with God. And Jesus calls on us, his followers, to do likewise: “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves, and rest a while.”
For some of us, following Jesus’ call to rest may mean making a trip to Conception Abbey for a couple of days every month, like Fr. Charles does. For others, it may be setting aside times during the day to pray the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer. And, of course, for us Christians, as well as Jews, we cannot talk about rest without mentioning the sabbath.
Several years ago, I attended a Bar Mitzvah. It was for a couple of boys who were friends of my nephews’. I was struck by the beauty of the service and the many similarities to our Christian liturgy – the prayers, the scripture readings, and even some of the gestures. I could see where so much of our worship is rooted in ancient Jewish tradition and practice. On a side note, my nephews, who were confirmed in the Episcopal Church a few months earlier, were impressed by the lavish reception that followed, and wondered why the Christians haven’t followed suit in throwing big parties after Confirmation. The boys’ parents had rented a part of Arrowhead Stadium for the party.
During the Bar Mitzvah service, each of the boys gave a speech. And something I heard in one of those speeches has stayed with me. The boy explained that one of the greatest Jewish contributions to the world is the idea of the sabbath, the setting aside of one day of the week to rest from work. The boy shared his personal experience of how much the sabbath meant to him and his family in providing the time to be with one another.
Observing the sabbath as a holy day of rest is one of the foundations of Judaism, rooted in the Ten Commandments. The third or fourth commandment, depending on how you count them, proclaims: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it” (Exodus 20:8-11). The sabbath is holy because God has ordained it so and has set an example in the Creation.
From Judaism, observing the sabbath spread to Christianity, though we do so on Sunday instead of Saturday in commemoration of Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday morning. And, in the modern world, this idea of a weekly rest period has become institutionalized and expanded to include Saturday for a weekend package. Prior to this, most societies took their rest on festivals days and certain periods of the agricultural season. So, the idea of a weekly time of rest was quite revolutionary and transformative.
It used to be that like the Jews, Christians used to quite serious about keeping the sabbath. Some of you may have seen the movie “The Chariots of Fire,” which came out in 1981. The film is based on the life of Eric Liddell, a Scottish athlete and devout Christian, who, in the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, refused to run in the heats for the 100 meters, in which he was favored to win the gold, because they were held on a Sunday. He competed instead in the 400 meters, held during the week, and he won. Sorry for the spoiler, those of you who haven’t seen the film.
On a more personal note, both my parents lived for a few years under the North Korean communist regime of Kim Il Sung, the current leader Kim Jong Un’s grandfather, in the late 1940s before the Korean War. The government would schedule mandatory athletic and extracurricular activities for schools on Sunday in order to target the Christian students. When they wouldn’t show up, they would be punished by the teachers on Monday morning. Christians in the past have paid a dear price to keep the sabbath. It was a mark of their Christian identity.
But in recent times, especially for us in hard-working America, we’ve come to largely ignore the sabbath. Some of you may remember the days when everything was closed on Sundays. We still have some vestiges of the so-called blue laws, such as the one prohibiting the sale of alcohol in groceries on Sundays. But it used to be that all businesses shut down, not just Chick-Fil-A. And going to church wasn’t an option. Almost everyone, at least in this part of the country, went to church Sunday morning. But now not only is Sunday like any other day; we have kids’ soccer games and other activities that can make it one of the busiest days of the week. Going to church has become just another option for the day off from work.
Our society may have drifted away from keeping a day of rest, but we need it more than ever. And it is not just our bodies that need the rest; our spirits need it, too. In our Book of Common Prayer, we find this prayer about the importance of rest: “God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength.” In returning and rest we shall be saved. As Christians, we have the opportunity each Sunday, our sabbath day, to return and rest, and find our salvation in the Holy Eucharist. It is our ultimate source of spiritual renewal and refreshment.
At St. Mary’s, we have a wonderful tradition of the altar party and the choir praying in the chapel in preparation for worship. Among the prayers, we find these words from the Psalms: “O send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling, Then I will go to the altar of God” (Psalm 43:3-4). This altar is our holy hill. Just as Jesus retreated to the mountains or wilderness to rest and pray, we leave the world behind us and ascend this holy hill to rest and pray. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of our daily lives, and the noises of the world around us, Jesus calls us: “Come away…rest for a while.” He calls us to join him at the altar to pray. And he nourishes us with His Body and Blood. Let us, then, come into His Presence to find our rest. May we be renewed and refreshed to go forth to do His work in the world. Amen.
 Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing, 1979), 832.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!