Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days shall you 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. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. (NRSV)
The signs all over North Carolina’s highways proclaim a two-word message: Stay Home! I have been staying home most of the time lately except for the occasional trip to the grocery store. It is not my usual way of life, but while some people – medical people, sanitation workers, postal workers, grocers, pharmacists, public transportation workers, food service workers, school cafeteria workers for example- may go out into the world each day to work, many of us stay home. And I understand that when I do not go out into then world and interact with other people and touch many objects that others have touched and will touch after me, I am doing what I can do to “flatten the curve” of the spreading virus. And, really, asking a person with a safe and pleasant home with television, internet, telephone is not a terribly hard thing.
Our wonderful neighbors are of the Jewish faith, and they are practicing Jews. The begin their sabbath by going to synagogue for worship on Friday evening. And then they rest. They neither buy nor sell. They do not travel far from home. They do not do work. They take time to enjoy one another, and to appreciate the work God did in creation. I think that I, for one, did not do nearly enough of that before the day of COVID-19. I will admit that I have done many things on the sabbath that are not strictly obedient to the spirit of the commandment. During this time of “enforced sabbath” as some have called it, I have had a chance to think about what sabbath is. God did not really need to rest from creation, I don’t think. But God knew that human beings do need to rest both in body and spirit. We need to set aside a time apart from the work-a-day world to refresh, and be at peace. And not just people only. All creation it seems is changing because of it. Rivers and streams are cleaner. Skies are clearer. The world seems quieter.
My neighbor gave me this poem, Pandemic, by Lynn Ungar. See if it speaks to you as it does to me.
What if you thought of it as the Jews consider the Sabbath-
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those to whom you commit your life. Center down.
And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives are on one another's hands. (Surely, that has become clear.)
Do not reach out your hands. Reach out your heart. Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils of compassion that move, invisibly, where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love-
for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,
So long as we all shall live.
Our gracious and loving God, who created the Sabbath for your creatures and blessed it for our benefit, may we observe it more fully both in this time of quarantine, and when this time is over. You know that our bodies and souls need sabbath, even when we do not like to admit it. Bless those who suffer from pain and disease of all kinds, and bless those who care for them. Be especially with those who must go out into the dangerous world in order that the rest of us may rest. Keep your world in your hands. Amen.
Pastor Rachel Moser