Psalm 92--which tonight I particularly liked in The Voice translation. You can read it here.
Church has been an enigmatic thing for me lately--not bad, just different. Shifted, and shifting still. Over the last couple years God has challenged and changed my views, feelings, and behaviors surrounding the Sabbath and the place and people I spend my Sabbath with. This is good, even as it's been hard: too often I have walked into a church because it is Sunday morning--a Sabbath set out of habit or duty, rather than passion, commitment, need. And our God is so faithful as to bring us to that, even if it means pain.
The Voice's note before this psalm informs me that the direction to sing this song for the Sabbath is the psalms' only mention of that word. And so it's not unreasonable to stretch that a bit--to say that at the end of the day, this is what a Sabbath is:
- giving thanks to God (v. 1)
- praising God with song (v. 1)
- speaking of God's unfailing love--"rehearse Your faithfulness" (v. 2)
- lasting all day "in the morning... and as night begins to fall" (v. 2)
- acknowledging that it is good to praise God (v. 3)
- listening to, singing along with, or playing musical instruments (v. 3)
- being thrilled and joyful (v. 4)
- recalling what God has done, in corporate and personal history (v. 4)
And that's just the first four verses. The psalm goes on to reference confidently keeping perspective in the face of fear and struggle, trusting in an overwhelming plan of God, and more.
And in this psalm--as in so many other places lately--I see what I crave for my Sabbath: simplicity. Not production, not pomp. Intimacy. Community. Celebration. Honesty. Nowhere in these verses do I see neatness and perfection--instead, it seems inevitable that such shouting and noisemaking and surges of confidence would be cacophonous, disorganized, deafening. The microphones might squeak. Tears would blubber words to intelligibility. Laughter would break out sporadically. It would be unpolished and full of hiccups, but it would be thunderous in its integrity and utter realness. So much of our world is fake, and I find playing pretend less and less tolerable in a place built to celebrate the Sabbath, among the people who agree that this ritual is the first way we echo our Creator. If we cannot be our real, messy selves here--not occasionally but constantly--than we have completely missed the purpose. On the seventh day, I see no indication that God used hair product, made sure the deer were behaving, and pasted on a smile to convince everyone else He wasn't tired. The world wears us out. If we cannot admit that to one another as we smile and hug over pew backs, we might as well rest at home.
The contingency on the final promise of the psalm tugs at me, reminding me that there is a side of this bargain that I pay: who will "flourish," "grow strong and tall," "thrive," "bear fruit into old age, even in winter"? Not everyone. Not even everyone who comes to the Temple. "Those who are devoted to God... Those who are planted in the house of the Eternal..." Commitment. Full ownership. Total buy-in. If I pretend at church, I will get pretend rest. Only those who are willfully shoving their roots into this soil, only those who fight and strive--and frequently, messily lose but fall freely on the grace of Jesus--will see such a divine payout. This isn't health-and-wealth gospel, this is biblical truth, everywhere from this psalm to the very words of Jesus:
Abide in Me, and I will abide in you. A branch cannot bear fruit if it is disconnected from the vine, and neither will you if you are not connected to Me.I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear great fruit. Without Me, you will accomplish nothing. - John 15:4-6*
And why, when all is said and done? Why will those who are devoted and planted stay full of life in winter? "To display that the Eternal is righteous. He is my Rock, and there is no shadow of evil in Him" (Psalm 92:15, The Voice).
So what will I bring to this Sabbath? And what will I leave behind?
* More love for The Voice! I loved this note on John 15 when I went to pull those verses:
"At a time when all of His disciples are feeling as if they are about to be uprooted, Jesus sketches a picture of this new life as a flourishing vineyard—a labyrinth of vines and strong branches steeped in rich soil, abundant grapes hanging from their vines ripening in the sun. Jesus sculpts a new garden of Eden in their imaginations—one that is bustling with fruit, sustenance, and satisfying aromas. This is the Kingdom life. It is all about connection, sustenance, and beauty. But within this promise of life is the warning that people must be in Christ or they will not experience these blessings."