Eastertide Preaching Series: A World Turned Upside Down
We continue this evening with our series “A World Turned Upside Down”—a series inspired by an uproar in the city of Thessalonica nearly 2000 years ago. The Book of Acts tells how Christians were accused of turning the world upside down with their witness to the resurrection.
The resurrection of Jesus was indeed the galvanizing experience of the first Christians. And it has been at the core of the Church’s proclamation down through the ages. But, as Br. Geoffrey so eloquently pointed out last week, resurrection is not only for that great day when we awaken to life in heaven; resurrection life is here and now.
Some words of Richard Meux Benson, our founder: “It is one sunlight which rests over a whole neighborhood, and yet how manifold are the sensations of the individuals that awaken morning after morning within the area of its illumination. It is one light of God which shines on all the blessed, yet the experience of each as they wake up to it is an individual experience.” [Instructions on the Religious Life; 2nd series; p. 63f.]
This sermon is about one individual’s experience of living the resurrection life, my own personal experience of the light that shines on all the blessed. Your experience of resurrection light and life may be very different from mine—and that is well and good, and as it should be. But I can speak most authentically from my own life. There is a word that best distills my personal experience of resurrection life, and that word is “rest”. Rest—and words like repose and Sabbath.
The springboard for this sermon series is the Acts of the Apostles, in which there is very little resting. Acts is action packed. Going and doing and telling and healing. Riots and shipwrecks and getting knocked off horses. Breaking bread and praying and sharing. The Christian life is a life of action, of people doing things. The Greek word for Acts is praxis, from which we get the English word “praxis”. Practice, practical, pragmatic. Christianity is a way of life, a way of living and doing, not just a system of beliefs. We do Christianity with our hands and feet. If you do Christianity right, you might even break a sweat. We don’t practice Christianity to not get tired.
But we can come to Christianity for rest. “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The risen and ascended Christ is all in all. Christ is here and now; Christ is always and everywhere. He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is the Resurrection. Even here, even now. Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me. Always and everywhere; and he invites us to rest in him. He invites us to rest in his infinity.
He is, in a sense, Sabbath. We might say, True Sabbath. The New Testament sees much of the Hebrew Scriptures and practice as foreshadowing Christ. In Colossians the Jewish festivals and new moons and Sabbaths are “…only the shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” [Col.2:17] The substance of Sabbath is Christ. He is, in a sense, the True Sabbath. We find our true rest in him. Christ is our Passover, Christ is our new moon, Christ is our rest.
The Sabbath is, on one level, about stopping work, resting the body and mind for a day. As our Rule puts it, the day of rest is an essential component of our covenant with God [chapter 45]. And, according to our Rule, not only the week, but each day should have its moments of repose. And the longer rhythms of life should include extended periods of rest. As our Rule puts it, “we are called to bear witness to the world of the graciousness and wisdom of the Sabbath”.
But Colossians points us to the deeper reality of Sabbath, the deeper substance of Sabbath that is with us wherever we are, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. From now and into all eternity. The Sabbath that is Christ himself, in whom we find our true rest.
And we can still break a sweat, as I said earlier. If you do Christianity right you can break a sweat. The Christian life is one of action, something we do with our hands and feet. It is praxis, practice, practical, pragmatic. In the story of Mary and Martha, Martha, kept busy offering hospitality while Mary sat quietly at the Master’s feet. They both got it right—partly right. But we don’t have to choose whether to be a Mary or a Martha: we can be some of each.
Here is the paradox, the upside down of it: Resting in Christ can be anything but restful in the usual sense. Resting in Christ, giving ourselves up to the greater reality of the risen and ascended Christ, can compel us to acts, action, praxis. Surrendering to the greater life of the Resurrection can put us in touch with powerful creative energies, powerful impulses: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, right the wrongs of the world. Celebrate beautiful liturgies!
Resting in Christ is not wafting through life in a passive state. Repose in Christ may compel us to sit quietly at the master’s feet at times. But repose in Christ can, paradoxically, compel us to all kinds of creative exertion. Christ is, after all, the creative Word of God, the One through whom all things come to be. Resting in him, we can be caught up in his creative work.
And resting in Christ is not anesthesia and does not guarantee euphoria and bliss. It means real engagement with real life. Resting in Christ is no insulation from pain or suffering or anger or fear or frustration. Resting in Christ, who is all compassion, can, in fact, put us in touch with the enormous suffering of the world. And compel us to action.
As it happens, the more caught up we are in activity, the less we are consciously aware of our grounding in the life of Christ. The sense of rest, of repose in Christ is something we will find we need to reclaim, to re-establish. This is what the spiritual disciplines are about. This is what the Sabbath of time is about. The rest from work on the seventh day can be for us a time to reclaim our rest in Christ—a sense of which can begin to permeate our lives during the rest of the week. I find I really need some moments of repose every day to reclaim my sense of rest in Christ. My discipline is to pray the office of Tea and Cookies twice a day: 11:00 and 4:00, more or less.
“Turn again to your rest, O my soul…” the Psalm  says. Return to your rest—with tea and cookies, or whatever it takes.
Forgetting, remembering, forgetting and remembering. Going, returning, going and returning. As it should be. As resurrection life should be…
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