| 18.8°C Belfast

Sabbath is a sorbet that refreshes us for tough times ahead

Rev Steve Stockman


'I remember the days when a holiday in Portrush was not reduced to something less.'

'I remember the days when a holiday in Portrush was not reduced to something less.'

'I remember the days when a holiday in Portrush was not reduced to something less.'

The year 2020 is the year of the staycation. I remember the days when a holiday in Portrush was not reduced to something less. Yet, this coronavirus year has filled social media with photographs of Belfast at play around the coastline of Ireland.

Whatever the debate between vacation and staycation, the important thing is that as many of us as can get away, get away. We all need a holiday.

These past months have been tiring. The new opening up from lockdown is energy-sapping, too.

I am hearing from colleagues that the reopening of churches has been so good, but the health and safety requirements add to the weariness.

God is all about time out. Right there at the beginning of human history God laid down the idea - commandment, if you will - of sabbatical.

Too often, we have made Sabbath a set of legalistic requirements for what we do on a Sunday, rather than that vital rest for the human body and heart and soul that God, as our Creator, knew was going to be needed.

We ignore God's idea of Sabbath at the peril of our mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health.

So, can I pastorally suggest that we all take Sabbath time? When I do, I have to be careful. I always feel that Sabbath is like God being my shepherd, leading me beside quiet waters as it says in Psalm 23.

I have a tendency though to stir up the waters. I noticed it particularly a number of years ago when I took my first smartphone on a holiday to Spain.

I used to put my phone in the drawer and check it for emergencies every day, but the smartphone had my camera and Kindle and Google Maps.

In my pocket, it soon tempted me to check social media, or post a photograph. An email came in about church. I didn't open it, but it made me wonder. The waters were suddenly churned up.

I don't read theology on holidays. I try not to jot notes about sermons in my notebook.

Genesis 2 tells us why Sabbath is holy. It is completely different. It is a laying down of what God did in those first six days:

By the seventh day, God had finished the work He had been doing; so, on the seventh day, He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that He had done.

Sabbath is a sorbet. I think I have only ever had a sorbet with a meal once. I might live in BT9, but I am from Maine Park, Galgorm, for goodness' sake!

Sorbet, they say, is to refresh your palate; to get the full flavour of what is next.

Sabbath is like that. We need to rid our minds to allow imagination a new impetus.

The traffic might be back to its normal busyness, but the next months will not be any less energy-sapping than the last six.

We will need to be fresh to deal with the challenges.

I also find that Sabbath is a soul space, where God gets a chance to slip in when I least expect it.

I read less of the Bible on the Sabbath. That might seem a contradiction, but not for me.

The surprise always is that, when I allow God to lead me beside quiet waters, I usually find God speaking to me and verses that I haven't read off the pages quietly rise to the surface.

The Bible is not just at work when we are reading it. It should dwell in us all the time.

So, I encourage you to staycation, to Sabbath, to sorbet, to soul space, to the searching of the Spirit.

If we are going to get through the next phase of this pandemic, that staycation is crucial. Don't compromise it!

Rev Steve Stockman is minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church, Belfast

Apt Bible readings

Some Scripture readings for the week ahead:

Monday: Genesis 2:1-2

Tuesday: Exodus 20:8-10

Wednesday: Psalm 23

Thursday: John 10:1-11

Friday: Mark 6:30-34

Belfast Telegraph