Throughout high school and into my college years, I worked for a local grocery store chain called Stauffers of Kissel Hill. SKH was named after the Stauffer family, and Mr. Stauffer was still running the place even when I worked there in the mid-90s. It was a family run business, which held to some of the core values of their faith, including being closed on Sundays. Every Saturday at about 7pm, the same group of old ladies would arrive ready to grab a deal on produce, meats, and fresh flowers that wouldn’t last through the day off. It was a buy hour before we closed. Each department had extra work to do in order to prepare for the 36 hour window, during which the store would be closed. It was hard work, but everybody knew the reward – a day off was coming. Rest was not far away.
Right about my senior year of high school, Mr. Stauffer decided that the rest wasn’t worth the lost profits as his stores sat empty on Sundays while the bigger chains like Giant and WalMart raked in the dough, and we began to open on Sundays. I’ll never forget that first weekend. The old ladies showed up on Saturday night, as always, only to be disappointed that the quick sales they were used to were no more. I opened the store as a cashier at 9am, and for the first hour, not a soul walked through the door. “Brilliant plan,” I remember thinking to myself, “this was totally worth it.” Of course, as time went by and word got out, more and more people shopped on Sunday. Within only a few months, it was normal for SKH to be open seven days a week. In one more place, sabbath was no more.
In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we hear of Jesus and his disciples’ ongoing struggle to balance the cost of sabbath with the needs of the community. The disciples are back from their first missionary journey and they are exhausted. Jesus, who has been on the preaching and healing circuit for a while now knows how they feel and encourages them to find a place to rest. As they search for a quiet spot, however, it becomes clear that rest will not find them as crowds rush to meet them, to hear them, and to be healed by them. Still, Jesus doesn’t throw up his hands and say “sabbath isn’t important,” but rather, he steps out in front, allowing the disciples some time away, and he takes on the crowds all by himself.
Sabbath is important. It is more important than profits. It is even more important than preaching and healing. Without rest and refreshment, without time to sit with God on your own, spiritual reserves slowly drain away, exhaustion looms, and burnout is not far away. I may be preaching to myself here. It has been a good month since I’ve felt like I had even a minute to think about a blog post. Last week was filled with 14 hour days. It is 9AM on Monday, and I’m already tired. Sabbath is important, and it is coming. The key, is making room to take it.