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.
Alternatively: Racial Justice Sunday!
Racial Justice Sunday is yet another sunday during the year set aside for a particular cause. I often wonder why we are still in need of such sundays? How about we just have a ‘be christian sunday’ or a ‘Follow christ’s teaching for once sunday’ and be done with it. What would be really radical would be to follow that each and every day of the year, not just on a sunday forgetting about it from monday to saturday. Fortunately for us Jesus asks us simply to love God and our neighbour as ourself. Therein lies another problem of course, we don’t love ourselves quite as much as perhaps we should! Our Christian practice is not often geared towards reminding us to love ourselves, but about calling us to repent on how bad we’ve been. This then often causes us to try and remove the log from someone else’s eye, as we quickly forget that we are no better. This parable in Matthew’s Gospel is a classic reminder of forgetting to have compassion on others even as Jesus has compassion on us. Remember that Jesus does not ask peter to confess his sins of how may times he denied him, he just asked ‘Do you love me?, and Do you love me?, and Do you love me?’ Compassion as i’ve mentioned before means ‘to suffer with’ and it is not something you have so much as something that you must do. Compassion is always active rather than passive. The master does compassion, he cancels the debt of the servant. It is impossible to feel compassionate, but you can be compassionate in your words and your actions.
And to add to the words of Pastor Niemöller speaking out in Nazi Germany:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out —
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I kept silent—
because I was not a socialist;
Next they took away the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they arrested the Blacks, and I did not speak out –
because I was white;
Then they came for the Jews, and I was silent —
because I was Christian;
Then they came for the catholics, and I did not speak —
because I was a protestant;
Then they took away the poor, and I did not speak out –
for I was a rich man;
Then they attacked those who travelled from place to place, and I kept silence for I had a permanent home;
Then they arrested those accused of scrounging on drugs and benefits, and I did not speak out for I was not one of them.
Then they came for those of us who were left –
and there was no one to speak out for me.
And from the CTBI resources for Racial Justice Sunday
I will not die an unlived life.
I will not go in fear
Of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhibit my days,
To allow my living to open to me,
To make me less afraid,
To loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing,
A torch, a promise.
I chose to risk my significance:
So that which came to me as seed,
Goes to the next as blossom;
And that which comes to me as blossom, Goes on as fruit.
Jesus says do not forgive as the law requires, but forgive seventy times seven: in other words be forgiving with all of your being.
Do you love me?
Do you love me?
Do you love me?
Keith Hebden, Priest in Mansfield:
“author of “Seeking Justice: The Radical Compassion of Jesus”. This website is being developed to support those who want to find ways to build a new world in the shell of the old one in their neighbourhoods.”
compasionistas.net is a website resource for all those seeking justice for folk in their communities.Seeking Justice published by Circle Books is a continuation of the work of the late Walter Wink’s Powers series. In order to allow justice we must ‘Bind the Strong Man’ Mark’s Gospel written on extensively by Ched Myers.