Sabbath. We return again, with renewed faith. Sabbath is a shared work.
Reflections by Rev René August and Ruth Padilla-DeBorst.
Ruth and René, despite living on different continents, are close friends and for this piece they were interviewed together by Tearfund staff on the theme of Rest and what it means for Christian’s in the business of our world today to take this idea seriously.
Rest is in the origin story that we find in Genesis – God created, God rested, and God called rest both holy and blessed. This holiness and blessedness of rest is at the heart of the Jubilee invitation.
Look at the things that come with the instructions for Jubilee. To be together; to take care of the land; to care for creation; to let the planet rest, the fields rest, our bodies rest. Jubilee is compounded rest.
When we measure our lives by what we are able to produce, we are living the life of someone who is enslaved.
The law of Jubilee was given to a group of people who had been enslaved in Egypt. Their lives for many years had been measured by what they were able to produce through their labour. In Costa Rica, an example could be the coffee plantations. In Thailand, the rice fields. In these situations, and hundreds of others, the value of someone's life has been determined by how many bricks without straw they can make, how many coffee beans they can pick or how many grains they can harvest. When we measure our lives by what we are able to produce, we are living the life of someone who is enslaved. And so, Jesus comes immediately with an identity that shapes us, outside of our capacity to produce.
Yet our imagination is captive to production, consumption, accumulation – and this so intensely counters Jubilee. Our society says: “No, you could never have too much, you need to accumulate, you need to acquire, you need to produce, you need to be part of this machinery.” We've been abusing people and creation, with this unquenchable thirst for more. The call very much at the core of Jubilee is 'enoughness'; sufficiency. This demands a recasting of imagination on what it means to live well. Jesus is very clear: life does not consist of the possessions we have. We need to recognise the value and essential need for right relations with humans and the rest of creation. The call to rest is a way to call us back to this.
Resisting the idea of rest and restoration leads to the degradation of our societies and creation. The reasons for our choosing not to rest are signposts to our own idolatry: the things we do that give identity, meaning and value. We live with the need to produce, measure, compare, compete, overlook, abuse power, despise limitations, look for endless growth, not consider the needs of the other and to become self-obsessed. We have the idea that if I can’t rest, I don't want you to rest either, because your rest exposes my hypocrisy.
But when God created Adam and Eve in his image, the first thing Adam and Eve got to do was to rest. Because that is where our identity is – not in production. You see this shift, right from the beginning in Genesis, and then it is exaggerated through the narrative and laws of Jubilee.
In the Jubilee laws, we see that God wants us to be free from this measurement of production and freed into a life of community, belonging, love, care and hospitality. Set free to live in a space for us to thrive, and in economies, contexts and conditions that allow us to thrive.
Rest allows for restoration. Jubilee is also about setting right all that has gone wrong, that has been broken, that has been effaced. For Israel, if misfortune or a natural or personal disaster caused someone to lose their land, so often they would become enslaved to pay those debts. The year of Jubilee was a year in which land was returned to original owners and slaves were released. No one was allowed to accumulate ceaselessly. There needs to be restoration and equalisation – things made right again – in the interpersonal relationships of power issues, but also in terms of work, so that there is the possibility of rest, restoration to family and restoration of land. And so, rest and restoration are coupled.
We are interdependent, and what I do or don't do impacts everybody around me. The way we design life and community, and our personal pursuits and values, impact those around us. It’s not about outsourcing my labour so I can rest. I can't call it rest if someone else is working for me. That's not what this is about. God created this rest and then said it is good. This goodness is not inherent in the nature of the rest itself. The goodness is inherent in the relationships that create rest. And so, it's that in-between, that righteousness, that produces justice: the right relationships between.
Whatever community you are a part of, rest is about creating the capacity for everyone to thrive. After all, the whole of creation should benefit from Jubilee.
As we reflect upon the theme of Rest, we invite you to meditate and pray over the words in Psalm 23:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
Rest, like a good holiday, doesn't happen without good preparation. In the ancient Near East, the day before the Sabbath was called the ‘Day of Preparation’. That was a weekly time to get ready to rest! This week's (and ongoing) challenge is to plan some time to rest… But given Ruth and René’s reflection, what could that look like? Below are some ideas:
Ideas for Small Groups and sharing the Reset Faith journey with others.
Transformation happens in community. Share the Reset Faith journey with friends, your small group, your tribe. Share a meal, speak honestly, pray together. Be changed together.
Rev René August is a strategist, thought leader, disciple maker, speaker, author, co-conspirator, trainer, reconciler and friend. She lives in Cape Town, South Africa and works at The Warehouse, which supports churches to live out the peace and justice of God in the World.
Ruth Padilla-DeBorst is a wife, mother, theologian, missiologist, educator and story-teller living in an intentional Christian community in Costa Rica.