This week’s worship will feature an extended period of waiting worship in the Quaker tradition. We call it waiting worship rather than silent worship, even though it’s mostly silent, because the silence isn’t really the point. Silence is just a tool that we use to wait together for God’s presence to be known among us.
If you’re like most Friends, though, then you’ve probably occasionally wondered what you’re supposed to do during the silence. There are as many answers to that question as there are Quakers, but here are a few people sharing about their own experience. These Friends come from unprogrammed meetings, so they’re talking about services without music or pre-planned readings, but the experience of waiting on God is the same.
In some ways, the Quaker idea of waiting worship is similar to keeping the Sabbath. Waiting worship asks us to lay aside our preconceived ideas about how worship might go and simply sit together as Friends in the presence of God. Sabbath-keeping asks the same kind of holy surrender of us, to lay aside the jobs and roles that define us throughout the week and simply rest.
Last week, we looked at a story of Jesus calling people into Kingdom work. This week, we will be focusing on what rest in God’s kingdom looks like. The Scripture passage is from Luke 6, and we will be focusing on this story:
“On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored.”
Sabbath-keeping is one of those practices that sound old-fashioned at first. It brings to mind blue laws, perhaps, or the descriptions of strict Sabbath rules in the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder- images of legalism or joylessness.
The Pharisees in the story are similarly concerned because Jesus does not seem invested in following Sabbath rules. To be fair to the Pharisees, they have good reasons to insist that their community pay attention to keeping the Sabbath well. It was only a hundred years or so ago that the Seleucid Empire was in charge, and traditional Jewish practices like circumcision and Sabbath-keeping were made illegal in an attempt to force Jews to assimilate to Greek culture. They’re understandably wary.
But the Sabbath is for saving life, not for destroying it, so there’s nothing improper about healing on the Sabbath. In fact, you could argue that the Pharisees have it entirely backward: we’re given the Sabbath not because we need another rule to follow, but because we desperately need to take some time to heal and rest.
It’s easy to let ourselves think that this is harder for us than it was for the ancients, with CNN available 24/7 and emails coming in at all hours and an endless list of work and activities and volunteer opportunities. There’s nothing in the Bible, though, that suggests that the ancients found this to be an easy practice either. There’s always another fence to mend, always another row to hoe, always another pot to clean.
What would happen if for one day, you just walked away from all of it? Stop being a cook, stop fixing things, stop driving the taxi, stop directing, stop researching, just be a child of God who needs to rest. How might that practice change you? How might it change your family? Here’s one couple’s story:
If you’d like some more background information on this Sunday’s passage, I highly recommend this podcast. Here are a few other resources that you might enjoy:
The spiritual work that you do throughout the week – whether that’s reading, or prayer, or meditation, or family time, or another practice – deepens our shared worship when we come together. Thank you for your faithfulness