An address for the church in Gränna in the Diocese of Växjö, Sweden
Sunday 3rd September 2017
The Reverend Canon Adrian Daffern
I Faderns och Sonens och den helige Andes namn. Amen.
I think of you, my dear friends from Gränna, every day at the moment. In my prayers? Why yes, of course. But there is another reason. Opposite our parish church in Woodstock is the local history museum. And at present there is a huge poster outside with a picture of a scary looking man, with a big beard, wearing a helmet. (It does look a little bit like Lars). At the top of the poster it says ‘Heroes of the Viking World’. Visitors are invited to ‘discover real life celebrities of the Viking world, examine human remains and explore their battle injuries, play traditional Viking games, and (this one is particularly interesting to me) meet the Viking Gods’.
I have never met a Viking God, though we certainly enjoyed the visit earlier this year of five Viking heroes, by the names of Gudrun, Håkan, Ing-Britt, Lars, and Ulla!
While they were with us, we didn’t really stop. There were endless meals, visits, tours, meetings, and services. There was very little pause for breath.
Now to be fair, we only had our Viking heroes with us for a short time (I should say, incidentally, that it was Håkan who described their visit to us as a Viking invasion, so I feel able to use the term Viking freely here today!). But, even so, there was little time for rest. Little time for Sabbath.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus reminds his hearers that Sabbath is a very particular kind of rest. It is given by God. It was made for man. The commandments say
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Now here’s a misunderstood word. When’s the Sabbath? Well, you tell me. Is it Saturday or Sunday? The Sabbath is of course, SATURDAY, because that is the seventh day of the week, that is the biblical Sabbath, rest, stopping, ceasing day. In English, we have the planet Saturn to mark the day; in Swedish, you go for lördag, Old Swedish for ‘sixth day’ (so I am informed by Wikipedia, so it must be true).
But because Jesus rose on the FIRST day of the week, our Sunday, Christians, adopted this day as the day on which they celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, and transferred the Sabbath sideways.
To keep the sabbath, to keep the sabbath holy, means, strictly, doing nothing. Why? Because that’s what God did on the Sabbath.
2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
And if it was necessary for God, it is necessary for us. This is why the Pharisees and others got so cross about Jesus’ behaviour. Which is not to excuse them – because the whole point of what Jesus was doing on the Sabbath – healing, restoring, bringing people back to life – was that people had got so mixed up about the letter of the law that they’d completely failed to understand the spirit of the law. And it’s in the Spirit, of course, that freedom lies.
The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.
Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. We are disciples of Christ, and that means doing what he did. Jesus didn’t disregard the law – he completed it. He tried by his words and actions to get people to see that they had lost sight of God’s will, God’s plans and purpose, his covenant, his love. They had replaced the spirit with the letter, and thus they had replaced the truth about God with a lie. To remember the Sabbath means that you and I enter, quite literally, into God’s own rhythm of creation, God’s time, God’s dance. How good for us all to re-learn what this means, and to do it.
How do you treat Sundays? You come to church? Good. You spend time with family and friends? Good. You pray? Good.
But do you rest? Truly rest? The rest which God wants us to take, sabbath rest, rest of mind, and body, and spirit, quality time with God, with ourselves, with our souls. For this is how we truly remember the Sabbath day. Make Sabbath time for yourself in everyday life too, not just once a week. And make it quality time. Go on, you deserve it. But God deserves it more.