Horizons Bible Study 2017-2018
“Cloud of Witnesses: The Community of Christ in Hebrews”
Lesson 7: In Community with the Hope of the Future (Hebrews 4:1-11; 6:9-12 and 11:1-3)
Rest, respite, a break, time-out, relaxation, refreshment, spiritual nourishment, recreation — all of these synonyms for “rest” are often absent in our daily lives. Yet to dwell on the words even for a moment makes us breathe a little deeper.
Americans as a culture don’t get enough rest. The Centers for Disease Control reported that one in three adults get less than seven hours of sleep a night. A chronic lack of sleep contributes to obesity, high blood pressure, depression, slower brain function, slower reaction time, heart disease and diabetes. Lack of sleep impairs our judgment. Simply put, we need rest to function well.
We tend to believe that we cannot rest because we have so much to do. Yet, our abilities to do the things that matter are shackled by lack of rest. We want to be good parents and grandparents, but without adequate rest we tend to be less patient and more short-tempered. Without relaxation, we have less perspective on what is most important. A to-do list can be a tyrannical taskmaster in our lives.
God models and commands a whole day of rest for us to benefit ourselves, those who work for us and those in subordinate roles. Even cows and sheep get a pass. “Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work — you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.” (Exodus 20:9-10)
Refreshment is another aspect to rest. Refreshment revives our spirits. Dorothy C. Bass in her book, “Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time,” says, “Sabbath keeping is not about taking a day off but about being recalled to our knowledge of and gratitude for God’s activity in creating the world, giving liberty to the captives, and overcoming the powers of death.” We worship each Sunday so that we are rooted in what God has done and is doing. Sabbath worship calls us into praise and gratitude and centers us in the will of God for our lives.
In Judaism, the Sabbath begins in the evening. Indeed, days are counted by night hours and then light hours. To begin the day with evening and sleep is an act of trust in God who keeps watch while we sleep. Sabbath-keeping reminds us that the world will go on without us for one day.
I found Bass’ writing about keeping Sabbath as an antidote to our consumer culture to be compelling. Bass recounts a time when her daughter wanted to go to the mall with friends on Sunday. Bass told her “no.” Understandably, the daughter was very angry and stormed off. Later her daughter came to talk and said that she was only going to look, not buy anything. Bass responded: “What does it do to our hearts when we are always looking at the things we want to buy and letting the desires be kindled in us for more and more? If we were poor, how would we feel if we were ‘just looking’?” Because of this story, I stopped shopping on Sunday to help me fight my own tendencies to want more and more or to try to deal with stress through “retail therapy.”
In Hebrews, rest is often mentioned as a hope for the future. Amid the persecution and problems associated with being a Christian, Hebrews urges the people to look forward to the time when we will experience the rest and the joy of being in God’s presence completely. To trust that we will see God fully, even as we have been fully known, gives us hope for today.
While visiting a very poor neighborhood in Central America, we talked with a pastor who lived there. One of us asked, “Why don’t the people do something about these dreadful conditions?” The pastor paused and then said: “When you bang your head against a brick wall repeatedly, who gets hurt? The government is corrupt, and we have tried many years to change things.” Another person said: “I have heard that there is a lot of emphasis on the rewards of heaven in the churches. Isn’t that pie in the sky?” The pastor replied, “Pie in the sky is better than no pie at all.” Amid the daily grind of unimaginable poverty, being with God in the future provides hope for life in the present.
Rosalind Banbury is the interim pastor of Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia.
You can purchase the PW/Horizons Bible study book through the PC(USA) Church Store.