The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.
As you think of the things Jesus was good at, what comes to mind? Love. Kindness. Service. Justice. Empowerment. What about rest? How often do we consider that Jesus was in fact a human with real human needs? How often do we strive to meet our human needs like Jesus met his? Rest is not lazy. Rest is not selfish. Rest is not a waste of time. To rest is to do as Jesus did.
Jesus had just heard the news of the horrific tragedy of the death of his cousin John the Baptist. Based on the gospels portrayal of how he wept at the death of his friend Lazarus (John 11:35) we can only imagine the toll that a family death would have had on him and on the disciples who knew John personally. The gospels let us know that when Jesus heard this sad news, he tried to get away for a while with his disciples to grieve, pray and rest. (Matthew 14:13) But while they were on their way to a mountainside to get away, they were met by crowds of people who were hungry spiritually and physically for the good news message of the Kingdom of God. So Jesus and his disciples stopped here and ministered to the crowds. This is actually the context of the miraculous story of the feeding of the 5,000 by the shores of the sea of Galilee. Sometimes we don’t notice that Jesus actually did this great miracle while he was in shock, grief, exhaustion and sorrow for the death of his cousin.
After all of these events, Jesus once again returned to the original plan and encouraged the disciples to get away and rest. He didn’t over spiritualize the need for replenishment. He didn’t just “pray away” the weariness so that it would spontaneously vanish. He didn’t guilt himself or the disciples by expecting them to be energizer bunnies who never stopped working. He actually modeled something for all of us by taking time away, to rest, and recharge so that he could find healing in his relationship with the Heavenly Father. Jesus and his disciples intentionally got into a boat to get away from the crowds and find some solitude. Jesus taught us that rest is an action to be taken seriously.
We find ourselves nearly a month into shelter-in-place orders. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t found the past month easily restful for most of us. For healthcare professionals and other essential workers, the pace – and the sheer risk of just going to work – has ramped up. Those who are working from home for the first time are having to navigate new routines, new technologies, and a newfound influx of Zoom calls. Many parents are also having to navigate having children home full-time, home-schooling them, and lets not forget learning how to add without just carrying the one. Many are navigating the loss of jobs, loss of financial stability, loss of loved ones. Social gatherings are suddenly virtual, which has many benefits but we still find lacking in their fullness. People we would normally shake hands with or hug have become potential threats. Grocery shopping requires a new level of etiquette. Taking a simple walk or hike outside has become a somewhat tedious and maybe even paranoid activity. The influx of daily news reminds us that life is fragile, that much is still unknown, and that no one knows when this will end. How on earth are we supposed to find rest in the midst of all this?
Slowing down isn’t easy, but it’s very necessary and it will not happen automatically. We have to be intentional about following Jesus and taking time to rest even in the midst of chaos. I’m not suggesting that we neglect our responsibilities, and I’m not suggesting that this will look the same for everyone, but if Jesus could step away and intentionally take time to rest, even during such a stressful and uncertain moment in his life, so can we.
Get some sleep. Slow down to enjoy your lunch. Take a walk (if you can do so safely). Put down your phone for a while and breathe. Spend some time alone with the Lord. Read a novel. Take time to pray. Open up your Bible. Listen to a sermon. Schedule a conversation with friends who are life-giving to you, “just because”.
Tomorrow, no matter how unconventionally, we get to celebrate Easter. We get to celebrate that Christ is victorious – that He has conquered the grave. We don’t know what tomorrow or next week or three months down the road will look like, but we know that nothing – not even a global pandemic – can separate us from Christ’s love.
One day, we will enter into the ultimate rest for our souls and for all creation through the power of Christ. One day, we will take hold of the hope of the Great Resurrection with all of God’s people at the end of history. Until then, may you be encouraged that your Savior has already walked this earth and lived this human life. May you find comfort remembering that He has experienced the pain, trials, and injustices of this broken world for you. May you remember that the one who was in the grave on Saturday, would rise again with hope, power and love on Easter Sunday. May you sense his presence and his promise to never leave you or forsake you. May we be like Jesus, and find spaces to intentionally rest, rejuvenate, and replenish in the healing presence of our Heavenly Father.