They say God left the best till last. I’m not talking about the humans, created as our genesis narrative would have us think on the sixth day, at the 11th hour. Better throw something into the mix to stir it up a bit. It’s all a bit too perfect. Closing time never offers the finest work, a last thought after a busy week, oh yes the humans. I know it’s a caricature, and it is all a bit Eddie Izzard. If we look at the genesis material, there is nothing to say that what came last is best or better than the rest. That’s just our understanding of it because, strangely enough it was written down by us, or at least our early relations perhaps in Iraq somewhere between the Tigris and the Euphrates – trying to make sense of the world they saw around them. On most calendars Sunday is the first day of the week. Or is Sunday the last day of the week on yours? Is Sunday what you build up to, or work from. The Jewish Sabbath was the last day of the week. The Jewish celebrations for Sabbath centre on the Genesis narrative of creation building up to the seventh day. As God rested from all his work, so Jewish communities honour it. It is a chicken and egg question. Which came first? Creation narrative or Sabbath rest. I’d go with sabbath rest. Why? Because the early tribes who followed this particular way of life were nomadic and were closely attached to the land. They understood the natural seasons far better than we do. Look at the jubilee regulations. Every seventh year there should be a sabbath for the land. This wasn’t just thought up, this was good land husbandry. There was also an economic jubilee. So however it came about, the Jewish tribes followed a Sabbath at the end of the week and at the seventh year and the 70th year. In Christianity, the first Easter was the first day of the week, the day after the Sabbath. In effect we moved sabbath to Sunday, we’ve just added the Easter celebrations to the Jewish festival, and transferred that on top of Sunday. However, I wonder if it is possible to recapture the essence of sabbath. Not viewed in a strictly linear way as the genesis narrative would have us think. But what is intended by a day of rest. Sabbath, for me, should stand outside of time. It is not a day but a state of mind. Do we allow ourselves to think in terms of true sabbath at all? Sunday can become so holy and precious that we are not able to rest for all the business of services and worship preparation, planning and looking to the future. I want to distinguish between Sabbath and The Sabbath. What then has The Sabbath become? A day (for some) to twiddle thumbs waiting for the shops to open once again? Those days are long past. The Sabbath in that sense has been forgotten save for a few faithful travellers. A return to those days is a wistful dream. But what is the essence of that? Though Sunday closing for shops, business and pubs will not return, there is something to be honoured in that desire for stillness, to see seventh day restfulness for ourselves for the land and for the economic. I’d like to suggest that sunday ought to be the ‘day of preparation.’ In the Jewish tradition this was the sixth day of the week. All the preparations for the sabbath were done on this day. The meal, the house everything was prepared to observe the Sabbath. I always wonder, as indeed did Jesus, what happened to all the farmers on the sabbath, surely they could not prepare everything for the animals in advance. Jesus asks, who would not untie his donkey on the sabbath to allow him a drink of water. It is not about doing nothing, but about having the right state of mind. In order that we can carry that state of mind of sabbath with us throughout the week, in order that we can have sabbath moments in all our work and in all we do, perhaps Sunday should become for us the day of preparation. A day not necessarily to prepare food for the week, or though for some that is what it has already become – by that I mean the shopping day! I don’t think we ought to beat ourselves up about this. I think we can give a new significance to Sunday without diminishing the aspect of Sabbath which is most important and without making us feel guilty for doing something on one particular day of the week when days are so full for the rest of it. Sunday is a Coda day. A day to reflect, but also to rise up and be engaged. A day to take notice of all that is around us and to care about it. A day to help us prepare to take sabbath into the rest of the week where we can we be co re-creators with the divine re-imagining, regenerating the lost beauty, faith, justice and art of creation.
I remember making someone cry – not the baby at the baptism, that’s far too easy! I suggested once at a youth group that those who did not have any doubts about their faith whatsoever were really kidding themselves and if they would want to grow in faith then a good deal of doubting would suit them down to the ground. Oops! Much like the child with their fingers in their ears and their face screwed up into a ball yelling la la la la la I can’t hear you – actually I think a few adults might behave like this as well. We remember Thomas on Low Sunday, often called doubting Thomas, but I prefer Maggi Dawn’s image of ‘Honest Thomas’.
“Our Thomas was a man of integrity; he didn’t pretend to believe things that he really didn’t; he didn’t say the words just to feel part of the crowd. It’s much harder to own up to being the odd one out among a group of friends, and it was brave, when he found that he was the odd one out, not to go off and be by himself. For a whole week he stuck it out, he went on meeting up with the other disciples. Their faith and stories of visions must have made him feel uncomfortable and left out. But he still hung around. Eventually, Jesus came and met him in person. His integrity paid off; when faith came to him as a gift, it was his own and not someone else’s.”
Jesus sneaks up on each of us in different ways. Each of us must meet Jesus for ourself in our own way. If we doubt the faith that others offer us, then we must wait patiently for it to come to us, some may miss it if there are not those around them to help them to see Jesus for themselves.
Last weekend 39 candidates were confirmed, what they confirmed was the baptismal promise: I believe and trust in one God; Father, Son and Spirit. But they didn’t confirm it blindly, they had prepared themselves to get to that point at which they were able to say yes, this is now my faith, just as Thomas was finally able to believe.
As we come to Baptise Jessica today, we baptise her into our faith, but knowing that someday she will have to make the choice for herself. Our task therefore is, not to teach her not to doubt the faith, but to nurture and give her the opportunities to meet Jesus so that the faith may belong to her as it belongs to each of us. And if it that means doubts and fears along the way so much the better for being honest.
… and the magazine letter is late. (as usual)
Fear is in the air, you can smell it!
You can see it as well, the shop assistants giving out adverts in the street for their latest offers, the new signs going up pointing to various retail establishments, information about flu precautions.
We used to be afraid of Nuclear Weapons, Global Warming and Sea level rises, then we were afraid our energy supplies would run out. After that came the fear of financial ruin at the hands of the global recession, now of course it is the turn of swine flu. Every so often nature gives us something to think about, to re-asses our place in the world, to challenge our assumption that we are the dominant beings, in control, subject to nothing.
Imagine an abandoned motorway…
The cars have long since gone from this place.
A barren waste monument to the automobile that once was king.
A healthy breeze drifts along its length carrying with it dust, grime and dirt mere ghosts of the heavy traffic that once flowed along this artery.
The old tired road stretches out like a panoramic picture as far as the next bridge, stoops under, and is gone.
The surface is rough in places, smooth in others where wheels once turned.
A dead, decaying place you might think.
Here and there, among the un-seeing cats-eyes, a small mound of tarmac is raised up, a slight crack at its centre, no more. A blemish on the smooth charcoal grey surface. Yet there in the midst of all this bareness and waste ground is the glimmer of life, a small gap leading down to the earth below hoping for a little light and a drop of rain.
In the dark of this crevice a timid green spear points skyward reaching desperately for the light.
How far has this shoot pushed up from? How many months has it taken for this one leaf to emerge from the dead road around it? How many other shoots died on the way to the surface creating the food for others to build upon? Days of growth? Weeks of struggle? Years of death and decay built up the nutrient for this one solitary shoot to push above ground.
What would it be like to be that one leaf, the shoot that strikes the air, the first in that place to feel the breeze on its slender leaf and to remember that thousands like it never made it to reach the surface, hundreds of shoots pushing upwards didn’t make it out, yet all joined together in the effort for this one shoot. First one, but then afterwards many stronger, larger shoots, a flower perhaps, blooms in the wilderness and a garden is re-born from the earth. Nature takes back what is rightly hers swallowing the grey with green. As we celebrate re-birth and resurrection there is nothing quite so optimistic as a desolate place. Remember the wilderness, the place where God was to be found.