Category: Sundays after Pentecost
Speaker: Kristine Johnson
Let us pray.
“Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking. Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask.” Amen.
There is a lot of truth in this prayer, our collect for today. We don’t always know what we need. But we often think we know what we need. And high on our list is escape. We need to get away, take a vacation, give ourselves a break from reality.
Speaking for myself, I had a pretty demanding academic year, and I didn’t get a decent break last summer because I was doing chaplaincy work full-time. I felt I had been doing as well as I could juggling family, work, and school, but I still never felt I was doing everything I should be doing, and I definitely felt tired. My oldest is leaving for college in the fall. I really, really wanted the summer off. I needed to have the summer off. If I could just be home, sleep in, cook great food, spend time with my husband and kids, catch up with friends, and maybe take an impromptu road trip or two, I would be refreshed for my last year of seminary. Rested and ready. But the Diocese of Virginia requires an 8-week summer internship before the last year of seminary. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I tried mightily to get out of it. I tried, but could not find a way. So I decided I would start as soon as possible, to get it out of the way, and leave some time at the end of the summer for what by then would be an even more well-deserved break.
Some of you may be feeling this way right now. Even if you love your job, you could use a vacation. Or you may be counting down the days, months, or years to retirement. You may be praying a loved one will recover from an illness so you can take a break from caregiving. Or looking forward to the day when your kids are old enough for summer camp, so you can have a few precious hours to yourself. Summer in particular is a time when we feel this need to get away, because the summer vacation is such an integral part of our culture. “What are you doing this summer?” seems to be almost a standard greeting, and the standard response is definitely not “same old, same old.” We need a break.
So when I first read today’s Gospel, I thought that perhaps the disciples felt this way. They had been out doing God’s work for some time now. You may remember a couple of weeks ago we heard Jesus send them out, two by two, to preach the good news. This week we see that they had come back together, and no doubt they were worn out from their journeys. When Jesus said, “let’s get away,” I imagined them looking forward to a relaxing time along the Sea of Galilee. You can almost see the wistful look in their eyes.
I had the privilege of visiting the Galilee in January, and it is beautiful - a perfect place for a relaxing getaway. Perhaps these weary men were looking forward to sleeping in the same, familiar place for more than one night. To eating what they wanted, not just whatever was offered. To sitting still, rather than walking all day. Maybe they were anticipating a lazy afternoon on a warm hillside, listening to the sounds of birds and insects and eating ripe figs from the trees. Or sitting on a rock, hearing the water lap at the shore and watching the birds swoop over the sea at sunset. Maybe they wanted to take a leisurely fishing trip, just for fun. Or share stories around a campfire. Just be together and have Jesus to themselves for once.
But it was not to be. The crowds saw where they were headed, and they rushed to get there. Can you hear the disciples when they arrived at their destination, expecting peace and quiet and finding instead noise and need? “Are you kidding me? Hey, Jesus, isn’t there somewhere else we can go? This is crazy! We know that you have compassion on them. Yes, they are like sheep without a shepherd. But how about having some compassion on us?”
There is something interesting about the Gospel reading today. It is Mark 6:30-34 and 53-56. What happened to 35-52? What happens between the interrupted vacation and the trip across the sea to Gennesaret where Jesus healed even more people? The feeding of the 5000. They arrive at this deserted place, find it is anything but deserted, and Jesus starts teaching and tells the disciples to get these people something to eat. And what seemed insufficient was actually overabundant, thanks to Jesus. But we hear that story another day.
Today’s Gospel is not about these flashy sorts of miracles. It is about the quiet miracle of Jesus’ presence. People came from all over to be near Jesus, just to have a chance to hear him, or perhaps to touch his cloak and be healed. And while the disciples may not have been delighted that their relaxing vacation turned into a mission trip, they, too, were refreshed, just by being gathered around Jesus.
The Greek word translated “rest” in this Gospel passage also can mean to have a fixed place of rest, to abide or dwell. It does not mean a quick 5-minute break, but implies something deeper, more lasting than mere physical rest. So amidst all this busyness, of people coming and going, wanting to be taught, yearning to be healed, needing to be fed, the disciples found this deeper, more restorative rest in Jesus. They were madly crisscrossing the Sea of Galilee, followed by crowds wherever they went. They still had work to do, but they were replenished as they did that work. Because wherever Jesus was, they were able to find rest. By abiding in Jesus, they found health and wholeness. They found renewed energy for the work they were to do.
And this is true for us as well. God knows what we need, and God knows that we are unable to ask for it, either because we feel unworthy, or because we are blind to our own need. In Psalm 23 we hear “He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He revives my soul. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This is what we need. Soul revival. Goodness and mercy. Dwelling in God’s house forever. We do not need an escape from reality. We need an escape to reality. The eternal reality of God’s love. And that is what God offers us, constantly.
In a few minutes, we will gather around God’s table for the very purpose of entering into that love and resting in it. The Eucharist is more than remembrance. It is our participation in the very life of God. The Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann describes it this way: “In the eucharist, the commemoration is the gathering together of the entire experience of salvation, the entire fullness of that reality that is given us in the Church and that constitutes our life. It is the reality of the world as God’s creation, the reality of the world as saved by Christ, the reality of the new heaven and the new earth, to which we ascend….Each liturgy is a gathering, a restoration and an “identification” of the fullness of our remembrance.”
When we come together around the table, we come as we are in this life. We come, black and white, young and old, sick and healthy, joyful and despondent. We offer to God our brokenness, our pain, and our disappointments. We offer our joys and our thanksgivings. And in these moments of communion, all that we offer is gathered up into the unity of the divine. We are in the heavenly throne room, where we experience “re-membrance” - not just the memory of Christ’s death and resurrection, but a participation in the reality of our salvation, our oneness with God and creation. And having participated in that reality, we go back out into the world refreshed, restored, reminded of the health and wholeness that God so desires for us.
Jesus knew what the disciples needed, and it wasn’t a vacation. They needed him. Heck, everybody needed him. We need him. We need to hear his words, “come away and rest a while.”
I am so thankful that I could not escape my summer internship here at St. George’s. I thought I needed an escape in order to be refreshed and ready for fall. But what I really needed, and what God gave me, was to immerse myself in the most real reality of God’s love for all people. With you I have lived among disciples, gathered around our Lord and Savior, listening to his words and being restored and prepared for the work that awaits.
What do you need? A week at the beach wouldn’t hurt, maybe, but the kind of rest I wish for you is this most true rest, abiding in the reality of God. It is this that gives our lives grounding and direction. So as we come to the table together, I invite you to remember Jesus’ words to his disciples:
“Come away and rest a while.”