A Communion meditation following and building upon a sermon by Dan Cooke, minister of Station Camp Church, on January 1, 2017 (listen to sermon). Credit goes to Dan Cooke for the selection of Genesis 2 and Luke 5 as material on which I reflect below.
In concluding its first creation story, the book of Genesis describes God resting “from all the work that he had done” (2:2 NRSV). Though we might rightly wonder what God did the day after he rested, for now we observe that God takes a break from work. In so doing, it seems that God positively affirms the value of living a life and engaging in work in ways that include rest from work. There might always be more things to work on — and worthwhile things, at that — but to live and work without rest is to keep oneself and one’s identity tied to work and production. For humans, experience teaches us that this kind of life is unsustainable. For God, even if such a pace is sustainable, God does not affirm work and production as the only indicators of a life worth living.
In the story of Jesus, it is not uncommon to find reports of Jesus taking time to “withdraw to deserted places and pray” (Luke 5:16). That is, we see Jesus resting from the work that he does. The one who claims in various ways to be Israel’s Messiah is a king who rests from work. If this king’s subjects choose to imitate his way of life, then this kingdom affirms the value of rest. The value of rest for all people finds affirmation in Genesis 2:1-3. Luke 5 has a way of narrowing the focus, affirming the value of rest for followers of Jesus — yes, even rest from doing God’s work.
The themes on which we now focus are (1) withdrawal and (2) listening to God. In fact, we can even think of these themes in terms of “withdrawal symptoms”: what we have before us are good kinds of withdrawal, and the good symptoms that follow.
In Luke 5, Jesus’ withdrawal is an individual withdrawal for individual prayer. When churches gather, they are engaging in a kind of communal withdrawal for communal prayer — to listen to God together. Indeed, at his last Passover meal, Jesus withdraws together with his apostles in the midst of a city, in an upstairs guest room (Luke 22:7-13). Even so, this particular communal withdrawal serves as preparation for work: bread and wine nourish Jesus as he prepares to give his body and blood for others, starting with these twelve men and including his betrayer. Jesus has given himself to you, to me, to those who love him, and to those who hate him. His withdrawal to his table prepared him to give.
Sometimes, we, like Jesus, need individual withdrawal for individual prayer. Today, we, like Jesus, withdraw communally to this room, to this table — his table — to pray communally, and to prepare for work. May this bread and cup nourish us as we prepare to give ourselves for others, starting with each other and including those who betray and hurt us, those who love us, and those who hate us, those who love Jesus, and, moreover, those who hate him, for love conquers hate. May we help each other listen to and hear God more clearly so that we can discern how to work and how to prepare for our work, and that we may know when to rest from our work.