of summer's lease and sabbath-song
Last night, as if on cue, the cicadas began their summer serenade. I love their mechanical, monotonous, lullaby-like whirring, welling up at dusk on a heat-laden summer evening. From my childhood it has been a sound bound tightly to all that is summer – a chorus signifying the return of stillness, an invocation to rest, rest, rest.
After nine months of school, activities and friends, the four Wilkin kids are once again fully present in our home. Our summer will be marked by some travel (cousins who need to enjoy our company), some learning (good books to be read, good recipes to try), and some household chores that never seem to get done during the school year (it cannot be an accident that the number of dirty windows in my home divides neatly by four). But the highest item on our summer agenda, and the one we all look forward to the most, is rest. There will be time to listen to the cicadas.
Here is a remarkable thing about the Christian faith: we have a God who commands us to rest. Our God commands us to hold still, to cease from labor, to actively enter into repose – not merely as a means to regain our strength, but as an act of worship.
The gods of other religions and the god of self, these demand ceaseless toil. To please these gods, worshippers work incessantly at the business of self-denial, approval-seeking, pilgrimage - repeated rites that strive to prove the worth of the supplicant and earn the favor of the deity.
Those who seek the approval of lesser gods commit themselves to a course of utter exhaustion.
But not the Christian. In our obedient observance of rest, the work of our Savior is understood most clearly. We rest not as an attempt to earn his approval, but as an assent that his approval has already been earned in the sun-going-down, Sabbath-initiating work of Christ on the cross. Christ worked that we may rest. He, in a gathering dusk, exhaling the first note of a blood-bought chorus of infinite rest.
The God who grants us soul-repose commands our worship in the form of bodily rest. As with all worship, the worshipper is blessed in his obedience. He finds himself restored and ready to resume the effort of tilling his corner of the garden once again. More importantly, he finds himself reminded that both the garden and the one who tills are contingent and derived, depending every moment on the sustaining breath of the Creator. He is thereby mercifully relieved of his idolatrous, exhaustion-breeding belief that the work of his hands upholds the universe in part or in whole.
This is a good and timely reminder for our family.
Nothing obstructs our ability to fulfill the Great Command like exhaustion. In the daily busyness of life-as-usual, the love of many grows cold. But the rest the Lord ordains for His people is a communal rest, a rest that places them in company with one another, hands emptied of labor, minds emptied of cares. Because emptied hands can deal the next round of spades, or make a dandelion chain, or pass around the popsicles. And emptied minds can join in the conversation bubbling up from the back of the minivan.
Love grows warm once again in the emptied spaces of rest. We remember our love for the One who sustains us, we recall our love for the ones who surround us. Worshipful rest is that which renews our love for God and for others. It is the rest that restores our souls.
Summer is, for our family, a time when the worship of work gives way to the worship of rest. We will not fill these precious days with more ways to be distracted, exhausted and pulled in a thousand directions. The evensong of the cicadas invites us to join in the worship of loving God and each other with renewed intent, awash with gratitude that our souls find rest in the finished work of Christ.
Well did Shakespeare observe that “summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” Before we know it, the season of work will return to claim its laborers. So we will heed the invocation of the cicadas to rest, rest, rest – knowing that our rest here is as vital as it is brief, longing for that future rest when our Sabbath-song of worship, once raised, will redouble and reverberate across eternity.