The difference between music and noise is rhythm. That’s true whether you listen to hip hop or hymns. Beyond the notes and scales and measures, the basic idea of tempo is so critical that there are more than sixteen different Italian words for the pace of a melody. Allegro makes the heart race with joy, while adagio calls for calm and unhurried tranquility. The fermata looks like a bird’s eye, and it commands the musician to rest. The pause is placed there for a purpose.
Rhythm is also the difference between mere existence and a purposeful, satisfying human life. The Creator who engineered the human body designed it with different speeds for changing seasons, and he not only suggests a regular fermata: he requires it. The Ten Commandments set aside one whole day each week for a break in the action in order to rest in God. Later the Gospels recount the life of God’s Son, who extended this invitation to us all: “Come to me all you who are weak and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There’s labor. But there’s also rest.
That small still voice of God makes a lot of sense when you occasionally detect it, but it’s more commonly drowned out by the roar of 21st Century voices screaming from the bleachers. Go for it! Don’t look back! Do it all night! No time to Wait! No stopping us now! We are a generation hooked on speed. There is no such thing as enough. We have convinced ourselves that rest is impossible unless we get away.
A friend of mine confesses, “I don’t know how to relax! Even when I force myself to slow down and do nothing, the things I should be doing make me tense and anxious.” My buddy has a spiritual problem but his name is Legion. I know this because sometimes I have the same problem. It’s a heart condition that’s as common as dirt. But it’s not irreversible.
Sunday was not set apart for the saints because churches needed a whole day for worship. Rather, the Day of Rest reminds us that human beings need a whole day to renew our spirits, sharpen our focus, re-energize our hearts, and lead families to delight in the Lord. We need a day to capture visions. We require a day for reflection on our decisions and dreams of our future. The Lord’s Day is a testimony: the most important assets in life are produced by God’s labor, not our own.
The idea of pausing to wait upon the Lord is central to everything we do and believe in the Church. It speaks of our confidence in the Gospel: Christ accomplishing what we can only trust him for. It underscores our conviction that we are body and soul; that the soul requires nurture as well. When the French Revolutionaries of 1793 conspired to eradicate the hated Christian Faith once and for all, they abolished the seven day week. Those firebrands were convinced if they could obscure Sunday as just another day, the faith would weaken and die. It was, of course, their strange new calendar that died, and only twelve years later. But they were right about one thing: the Lord’s Day should be sacred to his people.
It would probably require another radical revolution to recover that unique role of Sunday here in the USA. Sadly, the Lord’s Day has become Football Night in America, more associated more with the interceptions than the resurrections. But thinking Christians like you and me would be wise to rediscover the power of reverence and rest; and reclaim the sacred place of Sundays in our lives. Whenever I discipline myself for stillness simply to be present, I am surprised anew by the presence of God, who has been waiting in the stillness all along. Shabbat.
Lift up the Cross!