July 19 found us on our third week of a four week theme of Being Community in Change. This week we turned to a second image from our sacred stories, looking at the role of rest in the life of a community – particularly in the midst of the busyness that comes with change! The scriptures referred to here are Psalm 23 and Mark 6:30-34,53-56.
It is a communal image by the way. It is not a one shepherd to one sheep ratio, it is an image of community. So we might have something to gain from the shepherd image after all – I’m not saying there aren’t any problems – of course there are, as with any other image, but think of Psalm 23. This is an image of rest and renewal. Green pastures. Still waters. Time to lie down, to eat and be still. Rest is sacred. We know it is sacred from scriptures, from this psalm, from the importance of keeping the Sabbath – the day of rest. We know it is sacred instinctively as well, the way being in a park, or on a camping trip, nurtures our spirits in some inexplicable way. When we imagine ourselves as sheep, we hold on to the importance of simplicity, the importance of quiet, the importance of resting – together. Being a community together that nurtures rest and care, for our bodies and our spirits.
Here we are in the heart of the city, and we know exactly how hard rest and renewal is. It is certainly the case in the gospels. We heard how the disciples returned to Jesus, after having been sent out two by two to change hearts and lives. Now they return and as they are sharing stories of their work they are surrounded by people coming and going, so that they do not even have the time to eat. Jesus says, “Come away to a wilderness place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Jesus is affirming that they have done good work, and now highlighting how important rest is, a space where they can be together, not as teachers and healers, but just as their little community. This perfect plan seems not to work though, because the crowds follow, and Jesus has compassion on them. However, as Robert A Bryant points out, while Jesus takes the time to teach, there is the opportunity for his disciples to rest.
We need to recognize how sacred it is to let go of the expectations we place on ourselves and others, and just allow ourselves to be together. Rest is an expression of divine goodness. It is not about an illusion of perfection, but about an existence in what is, and a recognition of what is good.
This week’s questions for reflection:
What can we learn from this sheep and shepherd imagery about resting together?
Where can you nurture rest and care, in your life, your relationships, and your congregation?