Rest in the Midst of a Pandemic
Yesterday was a strange day for us at VCL. The church building sat empty as we gathered individually and in small groups. I was glad to hear from so many of you that the home liturgy we provided was helpful. We’ll continue to provide those for as long as we’re unable to gather for worship, along with plenty of other resources to help you connect with God and neighbor. Keep your eyes on this website, Facebook, and email as we work to get these things out to you.
As I’ve reflected on what’s shaping up to be a season of “forced” rest for us all, God has reminded me how rest is meant to be an integral part of our lives. In ancient Israel, every week was to be punctuated by a day of rest, “a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” Written into the fabric of creation (Ex 20:8-11; cf. Gen 2:1-3) and graciously restored to a nation of former slaves (Deut 5:12-15), the Sabbath was to be a gift—an invitation to rest and enjoy both God and His creation. This is why Jesus’ found its transformation into a heavy burden to be such a travesty: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).
We don’t often recognize how far the Sabbath pattern extended. More than a weekly rhythm of work and rest, this was to be the organizing principle of Israel’s economic life (Lev 25:1-22). For six years, they were to sow and tend their fields. In the seventh, those fields were to remain fallow—a year of “rest” for the land itself. After 49 years, (seven groups of seven), a year of Jubilee was to be proclaimed. During this time, the fields were to remain untended, and sold properties were to be restored to their original owners.
Jubilee was like an economic reset-button for Israel. This regularly scheduled “disruption” was meant to keep their hearts focused on the two primary commandments to love God and neighbor: “You shall not wrong one another, but you shall fear your God, for I am the LORD your God” (Lev 25:17). Failure to comply, God said, would result in Israel’s expulsion from the land—a “forced” Sabbath for both the people and the land itself (Lev 26:34-35). Sure enough, the writer of Chronicles interprets Israel’s later exile as the fulfillment of this covenant curse (2 Chron 36:21).
Brothers and sisters, we find ourselves amid a “forced” Sabbath in which we’ve been expelled from the ordinary venues of our lives (church, work, restaurants, etc.), and our economic stability has been called into question. For some, this feels like God’s curse. If you’re one of them, I want to remind you of what Casey and I said in Sunday morning’s video sermon: because God has loved us so well, we need not live in fear of His judgment (1 John 4:13-21).
At the cross, Christ bore the weight of God’s wrath on our behalf. Because He took the covenant curses upon Himself, we are left with only blessing (cf Eph 1:3). Sometimes, that blessing comes wrapped in the cloak of suffering, but we may never doubt that “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom 8:28). We may not be able to see how, but this present suffering will not compare with the glory that is to be revealed to us (v. 18).
Until then, we wait in hope. While we do, let us embrace this extra time God has given us and use it well. We don’t feel all the jubilant right now, nor should we. Whether we like it or not, though, a kind of Sabbath has been forced upon us all. Let us use this time to learn what it means to find more in value our neighbors than we do in our 401ks. May we continue to give sacrificially, not just in terms of our finances but in how we love and reach out to the afflicted. Most of all, may we use this time not to catch up on our favorite shows but to seek God’s face in prayer, study His Word, and lean on Him in times of fear and uncertainty.
The name of the Lord is a strong tower (Prov 18:10). Now is our time for all God’s “righteous ones” to find safety in Him and invite their panicked neighbors to come and do the same.