And on the Seventh Day God Rested

Moses is this close to saying “I quit.” Can you hear it in his voice? He has led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. They have been wandering in the desert now for years and are constantly looking to Moses to tell them what to do. “We have no food.” “We have no water.” “Why did you drag us out here to die? At least back in Egypt we had something to eat!” Moses has an enormous responsibility on his shoulders, and he’s working nonstop to keep the people alive and not wandering off to worship other gods. But he’s maxed out. Here’s the reading from Exodus 33 from The Message version:


Moses said to God, “Look, you tell me, ‘Lead this people,’ but you don’t let me know whom you’re going to send with me. You tell me, ‘I know you well and you are special to me.’ If I am so special to you, let me in on your plans. That way, I will continue being special to you. Don’t forget, this is your people, your responsibility.”


Have you ever worked for a boss who expected you to meet goals but didn’t tell you when or how to get there? This appears to be Moses’ frustration.


And does God say, “Okay, here’s the plan: I want you to do xyz, and these people are going to work with you on that. Get it done by Thursday”?


No, God says, “It’s going to be okay. I’ll be with you all the way. And I will give you rest.” You’re going to get a break, Moses. Take a deep breath. Chill.


One possible reading of this is that God is blowing off Moses’ concerns. Another way to read this is that God addresses not the details of Moses’ angst but the underlying frustration of carrying this huge burden on his own shoulders. And God says, “It’s not all on your shoulders. I’m with you. I’ve got this. It’s going to be okay.”


We hear a similar message from Jesus in the Matthew reading: “Give me your burdens, and I will give you rest.” I’ve got you. Don’t carry it all alone.


Maybe you already do this as part of your spiritual practice. When all the stresses of the world are piling on and everything feels overwhelming, you ask God for help. For some of us I imagine this can happen at 2:00 in the morning, when cares and shortcomings can loom extra large and keep us awake. “I shouldn’t have drunk so much at dinner. Why do I always do that?” Or “I shouldn’t have said that thing; I hurt her feelings. I’m such a loser.” Or “I promised to have that project done by tomorrow and it’s just not going to happen.” Or … fill in the blank. All the ways we beat ourselves up or stress out about things happening in our lives. Perhaps you find yourself lying in bed with your shoulders hunched up, your chest tight, your hands clenched, barely breathing because you’re so tense.


That’s exactly when we get to remember: Oh, that’s right. I’m not alone. God will help me carry all of this. So God, I need to say to you that I’m maxed out. I can’t carry all of this alone, and I’m giving it to you. Please help. Please guide me through this stressful time.


That’s one way that a Sabbath practice can really help. On the Sabbath, whether that’s a Sunday or at some other time, we take a break from the usual routine. We lift up our heads from the usual stresses and deadlines and remember that we are beloved by God. We remember that God still loves us even if we said or did something stupid or mean, even if we’re not going to meet that deadline, even if we can’t do it all perfectly.


Lay that burden down and take a rest. Connect with God. Six days we do all our work, but the seventh day we just get to be. So many of us identify by what we do—or, if we’re retired, what we did in our work life. Sabbath is not about doing, it’s about being. And in that being, we get to remember that God loves us not for our doing but just for being. We don’t earn it. That love just is. What a gift. Worth remembering on a regular basis.


I once read a trail diary written by a young woman whose family joined with a couple of other families to come west on the Oregon Trail. Her father was a minister and insisted that the group stay put on the Sabbath. At first they were frustrated to see other travelers passing by their campsite all day on Sundays, possibly getting out west sooner and staking all the good land. But after some weeks they realized how much they and their animals needed that day of rest. The journey took a huge effort, but if they could rest on Sundays, they stayed healthier and had more stamina for the long haul than others who pushed through seven days a week without a break. We need Sabbath, body and soul.


A related aspect of Sabbath is to remember what is holy. Oh that’s right: it’s all holy. When we’re cussing out that guy who just cut us off in traffic and is driving like a madman, when we’re tempted to yell at people who have different political beliefs, when we throw our trash in a landfill and pretend that it just goes away—we get to remember that the crazy driver is holy, the person with political differences is holy, the landfill is on holy ground. How do we honor the holy in everyone and everything? Sabbath is a reminder that it’s all holy.


Our bodies are holy, and how we treat them matters. Do we put healthy food into our body? Do we get exercise? Stay home when we’re sick and not just try to power through? Do we let our bodies get enough rest—go to bed at an hour when it is possible to get enough sleep?


On the Sabbath we get to honor and worship God. We get to ask God questions, wrestle with what we believe, learn and practice spiritual disciplines that help us draw closer to God. We pray. We ask forgiveness and promise to do better. We reset.


Our culture runs 24/7. Perhaps you remember a time, as I do, when stores were closed on Sundays. No mail, no alcohol sold, no soccer matches. But now everything runs all the time. Covid lockdown forced the whole world to take a Sabbath from the usual routine. Except doctors and nurses. They had no Sabbath, no break, for months and months, and the burnout rate was high.


I read last week of a nurse named Rachel who burned out during Covid and walked away from the profession that she had done for years. She started growing flowers in her yard. Then she realized that some of her neighbors were unable to take care of their yards, and she asked if she could grow flowers there, too. So now she has a flower farm that is scattered throughout her low-income neighborhood in San Diego. At one house where she grows flowers, the owner is wheelchair bound. He comes out on the porch whenever she’s there and keeps her company. When his brother was dying in that house, his caregivers moved his bed to the window so that he could see her working in the garden and see all the flowers growing there. In a neighborhood that has in other respects been forgotten and poorly served, people now enjoy flowers and beauty all around them. Rachel works hard planting, weeding, watering, harvesting to sell to local florists. But she is no longer burned out, the way she was as a nurse. She is feeding her soul and building community.


Rachel points the way to where Sabbath leads us. We take breaks, we connect with God, who gives us rest in body and soul. But it doesn’t stop there. Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” But then he continues: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me.” Hold on—that doesn’t sound like rest. But Jesus says that if we do this, we will find rest for our souls. If we take on Jesus’ yoke and do the divine work to which God calls us, our souls will be at peace because we are in sync with our calling. Rachel found that nursing was no longer working for her. Yes, she was helping people in medical emergencies, but she was exhausted in body and soul. She desperately needed a Sabbath. She listened to that and found her new calling.


When we practice Sabbath, we give ourselves a chance to discover if something is killing us, draining our souls. And we can open ourselves to taking on the yoke that will lead us in a life-giving direction.


What about those of us who are retired, where every day is a weekend? Some of the busiest people I know are retired. They are constantly doing and going, going and doing. Sabbath is an intentional break from doing and going. It is a conscious time to be still and know God.


We can actually build Sabbath into every day. Maybe it’s a morning meditation practice, or a stillness as you watch a sunset, or prayers as you ride the bus. Maybe it’s stopping to smell the roses that someone else has planted in a garden on your street. Or a practice of gratitude at the end of each day. Whatever works for you, I encourage you to make it an intentional spiritual discipline.


So right now, in your pew or at your computer screen, get comfortable and close your eyes.

Take a few deep breaths.

Notice all the stresses and cares that are tensing your body.



Take these burdens off our shoulders.

Hold them for us.

Help us to find our way through the challenges we face.

Thank you for loving us.

Help us to connect with that love.

Lead us in your path, for love of you.

Bring us to what is life-giving for us and for all of creation. Amen.


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