Come Away and Rest a While

I come to you in the name of the One on whom all our hope is founded, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit.  AMEN

A recent NPR story headline, “if your brain feels foggy and you’re tired all the time, you’re not alone,” pretty much sums it up for me. So when I read today’s gospel in preparation for my sermon, it was hard to get past the opening lines.

“Jesus said to them, Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”    (Mark 6:30)

In the On Being weekly blog post this week, aptly named “The Pause,” Krista Tippett writes this: “I keep having variations on the same conversation with friends and strangers and colleagues. How extraordinary it feels, for those of us in places of the world that are opening up, to do ordinary things like hug people and walk unmasked into common spaces and even just be at the office. Yet: how strangely, puzzlingly unnerving it all also can feel.”

She continues, “… This is a time of transition. It’s a liminal space emotionally, psychologically, physically, institutionally, relationally.  Part of what we need to do now is rest, as we are able. To let ourselves fall apart, perhaps. Throughout the pandemic, it’s been hard to fully articulate what was happening inside us and how that was ricocheting between us. Now, we are in a new moment, called to feel what we need to feel, to find words and new intelligence of practice in all the spaces we inhabit and work in and relate in. To acknowledge what we’ve survived, what we’ve lost, what we’ve begun to learn.” (https://engage.onbeing.org/20210717_the_pause?utm_campaign=20210717_the_pause&utm_medium=email&utm_source=onbeing#share)

Part of what we need to do now is rest, as we are able.  Come away to a deserted place and rest awhile, says Jesus to his apostles.

Picture the scene in our gospel today.  The apostles are gathered round Jesus, having returned from being sent out by – carrying practically nothing, relying on the hospitality of those they met along the way, likely healing and teaching, sharing the stories of the one they called Teacher.  I imagine them interrupting one another to get a word in, telling stories of success and disappointment, acceptance and rejection, all eager to share their particular encounter.  They are likely hungry, dirty, tired and at the same time, energized, buzzing with the highs and lows of all they’ve experienced.

 And in the midst of this, Jesus has just lost John the Baptist, his beloved cousin, the one who prepared the way for him, the one who baptized him, has lost him  to murder, a violent senseless death.  He’s grieving, and maybe more aware than ever of his own end and the violence wrought by those who feel threatened by his words, his teachings, the huge crowds he attracts.

Come away, let’s rest for a while.  Jesus, tenderly, lovingly senses in his apostles the need to get away for restoration, renewal, rest.  The need he himself has for some solitude with his beloved friends.

Jesus, throughout the gospels, and particularly in Mark’s gospel, invites us to rest, to step back, to stand apart from the things that usually drive and consume us, the endless striving for that elusive “more.” To find the quiet places, the deserted places, the places that allow our minds and souls to rest, to reflect, to tell stories, to laugh, to cry, to remember, to notice.

And often that rest we seek may be fleeting, may be interrupted when our best laid plans go awry.  No sooner have Jesus and his apostles cast off from the dock to get away, the crowds figure out where they are going and head there on foot, arriving ahead of them.  Now, if I were at the tiller of the boat, I might have headed for a new landing spot, but Jesus (being Jesus), has compassion on those who are waiting on land and goes ashore and teaches them many things.

The second half of this week’s reading essentially offers a repeat of the first. Our reading leaves out verses 35-52 which includes the feeding of the five thousand.  And when the leftovers have been gathered up and the well fed crowd sent back home, Jesus immediately orders his apostles to get back in the boat and sail away while he goes up to the mountain to pray by himself.  Vacation Attempt, Take Two. (There’s a storm, Jesus’s friends are terrified, Jesus heads down the mountain, walks on the waters and calms the storm – but that’s a sermon for another day).  Our gospel picks back up today with the group landing at Gennesaret and mooring the boat.

And once again, the plans to get away for a while are foiled as the crowds have anticipated Jesus’ plan, and word has spread.  As soon as the boat lands at Gennesaret, the crowds go wild, pushing and jostling to get close to Jesus.  They carry their sick to him on mats.  In every village and city Jesus approaches, swarms of people needing healing line the marketplaces.  They press against him.  They plead.  They beg to touch the fringe of his robe and receive healing.  Jesus’ response?  Once again, his response is compassion.  “All who touched him were healed.” 

What are we to make of this tension between the need for rest and the need to respond in compassion to a world so desperately in need?

On the one hand, Jesus is unapologetic about his need for rest and solitude.  He sees no shame in retreating when he and his disciples needed a break.

On the other hand, he never allows his weariness to overwhelm his compassion.  He realizes  that he is the last stop for those aching, desperate crowds — those sheep without a shepherd. 

And for us, what lesson might there be in this.  We might say, “well, we need to be like Jesus, meeting the needs of those around us with compassion and love.” And yes, this is true.  We are indeed called to serve a world in need of justice and love.  Yet at the same time, we need to remember that we are part of the crowds, pressing in on Jesus, seeking to touch his garment for healing; we are his disciples seeking to have our stories heard, needing to hear, “come away and rest.”

Over these months of pandemic, with uncertainty still reigning, with anxiety and sleeplessness still prevalent, we can take heart in a Jesus who believes in rest.  The writer of the familiar Good Shepherd psalm that we read (sang) today confesses that God “makes me lie down in green pastures.” God doesn’t just invite us to rest, God commands it.

And I believe that it is in that rest, whether we find it in solitude or with others, here in this building or online praying and singing together, or on the water or on a mountaintop, in the pleasure of sitting on a porch or pulling weeds in a garden, it is in that rest, that we may find restoration and healing, where we find strength for the journey ahead, where we find what’s next. Where we find the space in our hearts to let in the Holy Spirit to lead us deeper into relationship with God and one another; where we find the restoration and renewal needed to listen for God’s call.

Come away to a deserted place and rest a while.

AMEN