This year winter just doesn't want to quit. The days seem to be getting even colder--if that were possible--as we approach spring. Perhaps the only positive aspect of the weather these days is that it suits the mood of our spiritual season of Lent. The solemn, penitential character of our services is meant to bring out the memory of life before Easter.
Stuck in the coldness of our closed homes, we are supposed to spend this time in spiritual house-cleaning as we look forward to the joy of Easter. Yet to tell the truth, I'm kind of sick of Winter (and Lent).
Nor am I first church person to feel that way. Perhaps that's why in ancient tradition the fourth Sunday of Lent--sometimes known as "Laetare" Sunday because of the first lines of the original Latin service--was a Sunday for introducing a little joy back into things. Flowers on the altar and rose colored vestments (rather than Lenten purple) were allowed. In some places this is called "Refreshment Sunday" to bring to mind the mid-Lent break it is. In some congregations this is the only day in Lent when marriages can be celebrated.
Having such a break in our otherwise most-rigorous season of spiritual athleticism is a good reminder that being a Christian--especially a spiritually engaged Christian--is hard work! Luckily, we have a God who knows something about rest. Besides the Sabbath rest taken by God during creation, the principle and practice of taking sabbath was encoded into Jewish law. Our Lord Jesus also knew the value of true sabbath and can often be found resting in the Gospels. When understood this way, rest in not a break from doing spiritual things, rather, it is a spiritual thing! I'm convinced that more growth happens in the pauses in our lives than anywhere else. God loves to come us when we are resting, filling our sleep with dreams of angels!
Heavenly Father, you created heaven and earth with work and rest; help us to find the perfect peace of sabbath in our busy lives. Refresh us between our labors with times of holy leisure play. Remind us never to take our own efforts too seriously, but to see in them, always, the echoes of the great work you have done. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, your Son. Amen.