From Mark’s Gospel….
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd….
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to pray.
(From the Daily Office Readings, Mar. 15, 2012, Mark 6:30-34, 45-46)
In between these two sections from Mark’s Gospel Jesus teaches a great crowd of people and then feeds them with five loaves of bread and two fish; the crowd “numbered five thousand men” and who knows how many women and children. But what draws my attention today are the words of Jesus, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while” and Mark’s words at the end, “He made his disciples get into the boat and go [away]” and “he went up on the mountain to pray.” Lots and lots of ministry activity bracketed by “down time”, time away from the demands of the crowd, time to rest, time to pray, times of sabbath. Mark doesn’t actually call these “sabbath times”, but that’s what they were. Part of the genius of the Jewish faith (and, by extension from it and by the modeling of its Founder, of the Christian faith) is that the human need for rest is made sacred. “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (Gen. 2:3) “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God ; in it you shall not do any work.” (Exod. 20:8-10) Jesus famously remarked, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27) Methodist writer Leonard Sweet interprets Jesus as meaning that it’s not so much that we keep the Sabbath, but that the Sabbath keeps us. It keeps us whole, keeps us sane, and keeps us spiritually alive. In today’s story from Mark’s Gospel we tend to focus on the feeding of the five thousand (the part I left out up above), but I’m beginning to believe that the really important part of the story are the “brackets”, the times of rest. Do not neglect to “come [or go] away to a desert place by yourselves and rest a while” on a regular basis!