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 have for some time given worth to the idea of a shared common task. A task other than maintaining a building or a pattern of worship as these things ought to serve the central task rather than the other way around. Be that common task a community project, or supporting a local charity or at its simplest raising funds in order to send others out. The truth is that we always have had a shared common task. We, as followers in the way of Jesus have the shared common task to follow the commandments that Jesus taught which are summed up in the simple command – to love one another. Even this is not new, as such a command is to be found in the Hebrew Scriptures too. I’m sorry if you find that disappointing, if you were expecting something more dramatic, but I have to say, isn’t that more than enough to be going on with? I find it quite telling that this so called ‘simple task’ is not yet done. It reminds me of the rich young man who comes to Jesus asking what more he might do. Jesus asks him to give away all he has to the poor and he goes away sad. As has been shown by the European campaigning loving one another does not come easily to some of us. Especially when the other is one who can be easily labelled, blamed or stigmatised. So when I am presented with the idea of yet another project, I’m rather tempted to say: Really, don’t we have enough to be getting on with? And in many ways we do. I’m still drawn to the phrase – that we ought to be seeking: ‘new ways to touch the hearts of all’. It is relatively easy to love those who we see week by week. Less easy is it to love those we rarely meet and harder still to love the whole of the world as a place in which God’s love is shown, offered and held. There is only a certain amount you can hide from engaging with that task. At our recent Easter Vestry Meeting I spoke about a vision for ministry which will enable us here to extend our reach in order to love one another more. This vision began to be expressed some 10 years ago. Seven years ago, the Bishop of St. Asaph asked me where I wanted to be in ten years time, I replied, ‘oh that’s easy’ at which point he reminded me he didn’t want to hear the name of a particular parish or other! The vision I expressed to him is the same, by and large, that I expressed at the recent Vestry meeting and do again today. That we create in our community a place which enables us to strengthen our ties to each other and to the land that sustains us. It would be a place of Sabbath rest, for the living and for those who have died. A place where stories can be exchanged. A place where vulnerability becomes a strength. A place of hospitality which draws people to stay, rather than just to visit. A place which begins to grow within itself and within those who gather. A community which invests time and energy into learning from and using natural processes. A place for reflection and learning from the natural environment, but ultimately of inspiration that every place might become as inspired. Those who grew together would share stories, would celebrate, give thanks, and offer opportunities for others to experience the same. Such a place might become a real presence in a community and could: by its very nature be visible and active, of skilled and learning, providing a service, food and fuel to those living locally, fulfil a primary role of church, to ‘be there in the midst of the people.’ Offer space for reflection. Opportunities to meet and discuss. For hospitality. For education, work and sanctuary. Opportunities to celebrate and give thanks. Ultimately to establish a place on earth which speaks of heaven in order that we might love one another. I have struggled with this vision for as long as I have held it with many questions such as: Why direct resources away from the traditional models of church? Should not every parish be encouraged to be such a place? In answer to the first, ideally it should be self sustaining. In answer to the second, yes, absolutely, but one place must be first to inspire others. Seven years into +Gregory’s ten years I believe, I have found somewhere which could be such a place. Though to say ‘I have found somewhere’, is not quite right for really the place found me. I was not looking. It is a place which is already established, already a part of and known by many in the community, a place which offers a great deal to those who know it and visit it. It is already a Sabbath place or in welsh lle gorffwys, a resting place. There have been too many coincidences, serendipity moments and pure chance meetings for this to be overlooked, it is a moment as Moses before the lit bush, a moment to turn aside and listen for the next steps to take on the path.
Holidays, holidays, holidays… it’s all there seems to be, what with the long weekend for Easter, ‘the Wedding’ weekend, and at the end of may – school half term and the Spring Bank Holiday. What with the annual ‘Cadi Ha’ on the 7th at Holywell and Caerwys once again this year, the winter blues have certainly been banished this spring. But with all these holidays, what about work? I’m sure all the essential things will always get done, no matter how many holidays their are. The need for a break, time to catch up with oneself is always very important. In the bible, time is apportioned for work and for rest. The idea of ‘sabbath rest’ is not a new one. I wonder whether or not we allow ourselves enough time for this? The idea of Sabbath is an important one, even for those who are not believers. When we sleep, we allow our minds to catch up with the rest of our lives, the processing that goes on behind the closed eyelids is as important as the work that precedes it. So it is with our waking lives. In the Iona Community we account to one another each spring for the use of our money, for the use of the worlds resources and the use of our time. This last aspect is perhaps the hardest to account for, but there is a real sense of community when one member reminds another of the importance of time off. Not time doing nothing, but spent appropriately with family and for oneself. When at it’s best our lives should be a healthy balance between work, rest and playtime – yes even adults need time to play!! This is sabbath at its best – if we allow ourselves this balance, perhaps we might catch a glimpse of the sacred nature of all things behind time itself.