Dear People of God,
In my part of the country, we’ve had a rather chilly, dry month of April. I recall a memorable spring about twenty years ago, however, that was very different. We had warm weather and torrential rains, so much so that the nearby golf course was awash with a powerful river. Being young and foolish, a few friends and I decided to get some flotation devices (inner tubes and an air mattress, if I remember correctly) and ride the river to its destination, a nearby reservoir.
The trip was great fun until we reached that last 100 yards or so. Lying on my stomach, I had been paddling along in a nice quiet stretch of water when I came around the final curve and heard an ominous roar. I knew the last stretch was rocky, but I had never seen it up close in April with thousands of gallons of water churning over the rocks and logs. I grabbed hold of a nearby branch hanging over the river, came to a complete stop, and decided to take stock of the situation. But then a more intrepid friend sailed by and fearlessly entered the chaos. I figured if he could do it, so could I, so I let go of my branch and followed suit.
I quickly realized my mistake when I began to bounce around like a pinball, and then saw my friend’s empty inner tube go flying several feet into the air. At that point, I realized I was in serious trouble. I rolled out of the tube and tried to swim to the shore, but found myself being flung against rocks, dragged along the stony bottom, and basically pummeled into submission. I finally staggered to safety, crawling out of the water like some kind of drowned rat. Fortunately, none of us suffered permanent injuries, although I still have a bump on my left knee from a close encounter with New Hampshire granite.
For many of us, life can feel like we are caught in a similar raging river. Whether we are following someone else’s lead or just trying to survive in a crazy world, we can sometimes feel completely out of control as we flounder around for answers and security.
It feels like the entire human race is in this river at some level, from the chaos in Ukraine to the skyrocketing inflation and political turmoil in our country. All around us, inner tubes are flying into the air and people are hitting rocks in a desperate frenzy to survive.
While we are all in the river, some of us have a built-in respite from it: the Sabbath. That is the day when we deliberately “cease striving” after the things of this world and turn out hearts and minds to God. He is the Good Shepherd, and He promises to lead us “beside still waters.” That is a very different kind of river, one that is deep, powerful, and peaceful. Even in the chaos of life, it represents the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit, whose coming we celebrate this time of year at Pentecost.
The Sabbath, then, is God’s gift of peace in a world gone mad. But of course, we must decide what to do with the Sabbath. Will we honor it, or will we ignore it? To return to the river analogy, the Sabbath represents that branch that I gripped above the rapids. As I clung to it, I was still in the water, the river was still roaring along, but I was in a place of safety. I made the choice to grab on to that branch and rest, but then I made the choice to leave it. I was foolishly confident in my own abilities, influenced by those around me, and in pursuit of personal glory. The branch represented a God-given refuge, but it was still my choice to hold it or not.
That is the opportunity that God offers to us today. In the rapids of life, He offers a weekly “branch” that we can hold for safety and refreshment. This day gives us a chance to breathe, to get our eyes up on our Creator, and to remind ourselves that He is Good, and that He is in control of every stretch of rapids. With that fresh vision, we can face the challenges of life without fear.
As a very practical suggestion, I would recommend a “technology-fast” for most or all of the Sabbath. I adopted this practice last year, and would suggest there is great benefit in “unplugging” from the 24-hour news cycle, e-mail barrage, and social media notifications. I know this may be a radical lifestyle change for some, but it has brought a peace to my spirit to consider electronic devices “off limits” for all or most of this day. Why not try it as a one-time experiment, and see what happens?
Whether you decide to pursue this last suggestion or not, please do continue to hold on to the Sabbath branch. The Bible warns us that evil men will grow “worse and worse,” but also promises a “countless multitude” to be reached for Christ at the same time. How does this work? The Sabbath is one of the ways this paradox is achieved, for the Sabbath is a lifeline that gets “better and better” as it leads us out of the raging rapids of evil and straight into the arms of our Creator. He is our Hope, and this day reminds us of that mighty truth.
May the Sabbath branch be a respite for each of you today.