We all talk about the great “rat race” that life can become. In his book, “Sabbath,” Wayne Muller tells the story of Harvard president Neil Rudenstein. One morning Rudenstein overslept. For a perfectionist like him in the midst of a major fund-raising campaign, it was cause for alarm. After years in a system that rewarded frantic overwork, he was just worn out. It took a three-month leave of absence, during which he did little more than read, listen to music and walk on the beach with his wife, before he could return to his post.
Muller’s book, “Sabbath,” analyzes the relentless busyness of modern life in which the universal refrain is: “I’m so busy.” Muller writes: “We say this to one another as if our exhaustion were a trophy, our ability to withstand stress a mark of character. The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know the sun has set), to whiz through our obligations without time for a single mindful breath – this has become the model of a successful life. Yet the more our life speeds up, the more we feel weary, overwhelmed, lost.”
Christians are not immune to what Muller describes. One poor soul said: “I quit my job when I started screaming at the microwave because it took 60 seconds to heat my coffee.” Supposedly, 36 percent of Americans say they are rushed all the time, or at least they have come to feel this way. Do you race another car to get to the stoplight just so you can be first in line when the light turns green? If you lose the race, do you sit there fuming, eyeing up the other car or worse yet, the semi-truck and its driver, wondering whether he or she will take an extra two seconds to put the pedal to the metal when the light turns green?
New Testament Christians are, of course, not bound to the Sabbath law given to Israel (7th day only – no physical labor). The Old Testament Sabbath was “a shadow” (Col. 2) of the real rest we have in Christ who has lifted from us the burden of our sins to give us rest of heart here and hereafter.
But we cannot have the rest-giving Christ if we forsake “the gathering of ourselves together,” as the Scriptures put it. Nobody had more pressing obligations than Jesus. He literally had the weight of the world on His shoulders. Yet the Gospel of Luke tells us that, on the Sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue “as was his custom” to worship with God’s people. Mark’s Gospel tells us Jesus’ regular habit: “In the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.” Do this. Gather with God’s people around Word and Sacrament. Spend time in the Scriptures where God speaks to you. Take time for prayer in which you talk to God. Turn off the TV and cell phone long enough to keep company with the Father. Abandon the great “rat race” long enough to go to that solitary place – where the good work begun in you will be strengthened to finish the real race, the race of faith.