Come Away with Me
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
‘Come rest awhile’ (Mark 6:31). Jesus’ invitation has special resonance for me this week, as my family and I prepare to head out to Northern Illinois and then to see my mom in Colorado. The wisdom and importance of Sabbath-keeping is a message that runs throughout scripture.
The disciples have just returned from their first tour of ministry — they are officially now apprentice apostles. They are exhilarated and exhausted, filled with stories — thrilling accounts of healings, exorcisms, and effective evangelism. Perhaps there are darker stories in of failure and rejection to share as well. Hard stories they needed to process privately with their Teacher.
Meanwhile, as we read about last Sunday, Jesus has just lost John the Baptist, his beloved cousin, and prophet, the one who baptized him and spent a lifetime in the wilderness preparing his way. Worse, Jesus has lost him to murder, a terrifying reminder that God’s beloved are not immune to violent, senseless deaths. Maybe Jesus’ own end feels closer. In any case, he’s heartbroken.
Whatever the case, Jesus senses the disciples need a break. They’re tired, overstimulated, underfed, and in significant need of solitude. ‘Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile,’ Jesus said to his disciples as crowds push in around them at the edge of the Sea of Galilee. ‘Come away with me,’ is how another translation puts it.” There is both tenderness and longing in those words. (Debie Thomas)
Here, we find a Jesus who recognizes, honors and tends to his own tiredness. We encounter a teacher who notices his disciples’ exhaustion and responds with tenderness. I appreciate passages like this if nothing else than for the simple fact they are not shy of telling us that Jesus was a real human being.
Passages like Luke 5:16: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Or Mark 11:12: “The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.” Or Matthew 8:24: “Jesus was sleeping.” Or Mark 7:24: “He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in.” These “minor” verses offer essential glimpses of Jesus’ human life — the life we can most relate to—his need to withdraw, his desire for solitary prayer, his physical hunger, his sleepiness, his inclination to hide.
“These glimpses take nothing away from Jesus’ divinity; they enhance it, making it richer and all the more mysterious.” They are a reminder that the doctrine of the Incarnation is truly Christianity’s best gift to the world. “God — the God of the whole universe — hungers, sleeps, eats, rests, withdraws, and grieves. In all of these mundane but crucial ways, our God is like us.” (Debie Thomas, “Come Away with Me,” Journey with Jesus, 7/12/15)
So why should we deny ourselves sleep, food, exercise, and retreats? Biologists are in the news again underscoring the importance of eight hours of sleep and the improved attention and decision making that follow a short break during work hours. There is a harshness we have toward our mortal ourselves that God does not abide. We must help one another to be kind to ourselves and attended to our limits and needs.
Come away with me, Jesus invites us. The first part of Sabbath keeping is the graceful invitation to take a break. The second part is also essential and not to be neglected—we need time with Jesus. We need the rhythm of gathering around Word and Sacrament. We need time to love and praise God. We need time to be re-joined in the Spirit. We need God’s help to separate noisy thoughts from the signal call of grace. We need God’s living Word to be that compass that always points north. Otherwise, soon we are like sheep gone astray. I believe when we are rooted in grace it is easier to experience joy; it is more likely to notice the things for which I am thankful and to feel gratitude. These are surely gifts of the Spirit of which there are many. Yet another gift of Sabbath keeping highlighted by our gospel today is the gift of compassion.
We see Jesus is also like us in that sometimes, his best-laid plans go awry. According to St. Mark, Jesus’ retreat-by-boat idea fails. The crowds anticipate his plan and follow on foot.
Does Jesus turn the boat around and sail away? No. As Mark puts it, “Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat and had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So, he began to teach them many things.” (Mark 6:34)
Afterward, Jesus second attempt at vacation is also interrupted. According to Mark 6:53-56, the crowds anticipate Jesus’ plan, and word spreads. As soon as the boat lands at Gennesaret, the crowds go wild, pushing and jostling to get close to Jesus. They carry their sick to him on mats. In every village and city, Jesus approaches, swarms of people needing healing line the marketplaces. They press against him. They plead. They beg to touch the fringe of his robe and receive healing.
“Jesus’ response? Once again, his response is compassion. “All who touched him were healed.” On the one hand, Jesus was unapologetic about his need for rest and solitude. He saw no shame in retreating when he and his disciples needed a break. On the other hand, he never allowed his weariness to overwhelm his compassion. Err on the side of compassion. Jesus did.” (Debie Thomas) Joy, generosity, but most of all, compassion are the fruits of Sabbath-keeping and the gifts of baptism. These are the happy ingredients we need for putting together a well-lived life. I’ll tell you a secret. They all come from God.
I leave you today with a poem from Jan Richardson, entitled “Blessing of Rest.”
Blessing of Rest
Curl this blessing
beneath your head
for a pillow.
Wrap it about yourself
for a blanket.
Lay it across your eyes
and for this moment
cease thinking about
what comes next,
what you will do
when you rise.
Let this blessing
gather itself to you
like the stillness
between your heartbeats,
the silence that comes
but with a constancy
your life depends.
into the quiet
this blessing brings,
the hand it lays
upon your brow,
the whispered word
it breathes into
all shall be well
all shall be well
and you can rest
Jan Richardson, Painted Prayerbook.