Embracing Radical Rest: A Reflection on Jesus, Sabbath, and Resistance

In our fast-paced world, the concept of rest often feels like a luxury rather than a necessity.

Embracing Radical Rest: A Reflection on Jesus, Sabbath, and Resistance
Photo by Aleksandar Cvetanovic / Unsplash
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This post was originally presented as a sermon to the congregation of East End United Regional Ministry on Sunday, June 2, 2024. The focus text is Mark 2:23-3:6. Like all sermons, these words were intended to be spoken — an audio first experience.

Returning to the Gospel of Mark, we find Jesus at his most provocative and challenging. Imagine a first-year university student strolling into a professor’s lecture and confidently declaring that the professor is teaching it all wrong. Such audacity would not be well received. This is akin to what Jesus did when he confronted the Pharisees about their interpretation of the Sabbath laws.

In Jesus’ time, it was already accepted in Judaism that Sabbath laws could be set aside in emergencies to prioritize human needs. Jesus wasn’t changing the rules; he was reminding people of the compassionate principles embedded within them. However, his boldness didn’t sit well with the Pharisees, who saw him as a threat and began plotting his downfall with the Herodians.

🎶 Duh, Duh, Duuuuuh. 🎶

Thank goodness Jesus set those leaders straight. And now, because of him, we don’t need to adhere strictly to the Sabbath rules anymore. We can work seven days a week, be accessible 24/7, fill every moment with productivity, and never feel guilty about it. Thanks, Jesus. You’re a real pal.

🙄

But perhaps I’m being snarky. Like many of Jesus’ teachings, this passage has been taken to such an extreme that we’ve forgotten what rest truly means. The "Protestant Work Ethic" has ingrained in us a sense of guilt for taking a break, enjoying a hobby, or keeping a day free of commitments.

When asked how we are, we often respond, “Oh, busy.” It’s as if busyness has become a badge of honor. If we’re not busy, are we even living productive lives?

I struggle with this. I struggle hard. Maybe it’s a Millennial thing?

A few years ago, I took up linocut, an art form involving carving designs into linoleum. The first piece I created was for my husband, who proudly displayed it at his church. A lay leader saw it and commented, “She could start selling those!” 🤦🏻‍♀️ It was meant as a compliment, but it reflected a broader cultural issue—the only way the art held value was if it could be monetized.

🎶 Money makes the world go 'round... 🎶

This obsession with productivity and busyness is pervasive. About five years ago, during my final field placement with the Centre for Christian Studies, I created a new ministry called Resistance Church. Sponsored by Jubilee United Church, it aimed to combat the culture of busyness. We wanted to offer worship experiences with a focus on rest, hope, and community—values that felt increasingly countercultural.

One Sunday night in December, a snowstorm forced us to cancel our in-person worship. I decided to move the service online, a novel idea in 2019. This shift was successful, leading us to embrace an entirely online ministry. It allowed participation from people all over the world, and it became a vital resource during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, some members of the congregation were uneasy with the name "Resistance Church." It sounded too aggressive, too anarchist. One Sunday, I dropped off some flyers, which caused such a stir that the minister, my educational supervisor, had to address the congregation. The following week, I explained the concept behind Resistance Church.

Our three pillars were:

  • Rest as Resistance
  • Hope as Resistance
  • Community as Resistance

In a world where busyness is glorified, where stress is an addiction, and where hobbies are commodified, Rest is an act of Holy Resistance. In a world filled with despair, Hope is an act of Holy Resistance. In a world that prizes individualism, Community is an act of Holy Resistance.

At its best, worship is all of these things. It is a radical act to set aside time each week for rest, hope, and community. This is the essence of church—a countercultural space where we can find true rest and connection.

Explaining this to the congregation, I emphasized that Jesus’ message was subversive and radical. His teachings challenged the status quo and continue to do so today. Resistance Church explicitly named this for those outside the traditional church setting.

I concluded with a welcome to the Resistance. Despite ongoing questions, the people of Jubilee supported Resistance Church throughout my ministry with them. They didn’t always understand it, but they showed grace, recognizing that Resistance Church wasn’t for those already nourished by traditional Sabbath practices.

This lengthy reflection underscores my appreciation for Jesus clarifying that Sabbath rules aren’t absolute. However, he didn’t dismiss the idea of Sabbath entirely. Rest and replenishment are essential to living a life of faith. I built a ministry around these principles because I struggle with them too.

Rest, hope, and community are the pillars of our Thursday evening worship at Glen Rhodes. In a challenging and often frightening world, the lamp of God has not yet burned out. There is hope. The space created for rest is where we can hear God’s call, even in the hard times, because we face these challenges together in community.

I love this [East End United Regional Ministry] community deeply. I admire how you show up for each other, live out hope beyond our church walls, and commit to contemplating Divine mysteries. My Sabbath prayer for all of us is to understand the importance of what we do here every week: Rest. Hope. Community. And on we go. Vive le Resistance!

This is sacred, holy, and faithful work.

Amen.

Rev. Bri-anne Swan is lead minister to East End United Regional Ministry in Toronto, Canada.