Come away with me… and get some rest

Today’s reading is Mark 6:30-32Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

I like to be organised—and generally I am pretty good at this. I’m a visual person—seeing things helps me to remember, and so I have a well organised diary—where I can clearly see the week before me; I use lists like this—a ‘Things to do today’ list. Once on a training course, we were urged not to use e.g. Post it notes, as they just got everywhere, and led to more confusion. But I confess, that the visual person in me does still like using bright coloured notes sometimes, stuck on the top of my diary, or on my computer, reminding me urgent things.

When the system works well, it’s ok. It keeps me focused and ticking things off the ‘to do’ pile. When it’s not working so well, I find the list too long to see clearly, post it notes have appeared everywhere, and I am just chasing down endless tasks—some short term and immediate, others medium or long-term planning stuff.

The point is, that the lists never end, and we can be chasing after this end forever—the ‘hamster wheel of life’ so to speak, which we just keep on turning. When I examine my own life, especially during a time like this, I see the risks clearly—of focusing too much on what I think I need to accomplish every day, rather than responding to what God is doing in the world and in my life.

St Augustine of Hippo said of God, ‘You have created us for yourself, and our heart cannot be stilled until it finds rest in you.’

‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,’ said Jesus to his disciples.

Jesus said this to his friends at a particular time and for a particular reason. If we read back in Mark chapter 6 to the verse preceding our short reading today, we discover that the disciples had just returned from a mission to various places all around Galilee. Jesus had been in the region of Nazareth, and from here he sends out the Twelve, with a specific commission to preach the good news of repentance—turning away from our old lives of self, and turning towards a new life with God; and also, with the specific authority of Jesus himself, to cast out evil spirits from people’s lives. They were sent out in pairs, and they were to take nothing with them, but to completely rely on God for all their needs.

We don’t know precisely where the twelve went. But we do know that the crowd of five thousand people who converged on Jesus and the disciples later—as a result of this mission, ‘came from all the towns’, and so the area they covered must have been considerable. It’s therefore probably that this mission lasted for quite some time.

We hear from Mark what the disciples did in the name of Jesus—preaching repentance, driving out demons, anointing many sick people with oil and healing them in Jesus name. It was clear that the Kingdom of God—of grace, love, wholeness, forgiveness and healing was overcoming the dominion of darkness.

We can see in this mission, the purposes of Jesus for these people—from his initial call to the disciples to first follow him, onto his commission to his followers to take the good news of Jesus not just to Galilee, but to the whole world—a commission for all followers of Jesus.

So the disciples return—and they would have been exhausted. Does Jesus hand them the next long ‘To Do’ list? No, he says to them, ‘Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest.’

Later verses show this didn’t work out quite as planned, and I’ll comment on this in a moment. But the principle and the practice of what Jesus said are as vital and important as ever.

In our desire to get everything done and more, it’s easy to forget the importance of Jesus’s solitude, silence, prayer times, rest times. All of us have so much to learn from Jesus’s intimacy with God—times spent in a quiet place, to be restored by God’s grace. Jesus continually withdrew from people, from the activities of daily life, from the demands of his ministry, to be alone with the Father, to rest in his presence. This is a priority for him which we see clearly from the Bible. It’s how he managed the demands of his calling, how he taught his disciples; it’s how he prepared for all the big challenges he faced. And Jesus invites you and me to join him, so that we can know this intimacy with our father God too—and so better manage our own lives.

It is so clear in the Bible that it’s a wonder we miss it!

In Marks Gospel alone, we read, ‘Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, and said, ‘Come follow me…’; ‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.’ Both these texts are from Mark 1Open Link in New Window.

In all the gospels we find many times when Jesus sought space and quiet. Here are a few more…

‘Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.; Jesus goes out beside the lake where people find him; He was walking through the grain fields, where his disciples joined him; He went up to a mountainside to pray; He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place; He went up on a mountainside by himself to pray; When evening came he was there alone; They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray”.
(Mark 14:32Open Link in New Window)

And there are lots more. Jesus invites us, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest,’ Jesus lived it, modelled it, invited his disciples and invites you and me to do the same.

Last week, Richard spoke on the passage in John’s Gospel chapter 7, where Jesus invited us to quench our thirst for meaning in life with the invitation, ‘Come to me and drink’, and streams of living water will flow from us, as we are filled by the Holy Spirit and can therefore pour out the love of God towards others—as we overflow with his love. We fill up by spending time resting in the presence of God.

Our passage today actually plays out a bit differently from what we might at first expect. After their long and tiring mission, the disciples return to Jesus, and he invites them to ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ But there was a little hitch. The mission had clearly had so much impact that they were followed by a crowd of 5,000, and they all ended up in a solitary place together with nothing to eat. The compassion of Jesus meant that he revealed his glory in the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. But it was Jesus who did this, and not the disciples.

An Anglican clergyman called Eric Abbot once said, “Because God is the Ceaseless Worker, we can afford to stop and to rest and to commit to him the arrears in our work, as well as the work done. We do not ‘bear up the pillars of the world.’ God does that.”

In other words, as Jesus did himself and as he invites us to, we are to regularly come away to a quiet place to rest with God—but we need never fear that God has packed his bags and gone on holiday. The grace and love of God is always here for us.

So, do you need to put your lists aside, and come away to a quiet place with Jesus? To finish, here is a picture of the place at home where I usually go. Find yourself a place—and go there—often.

Ian Tomkins. 22 Nov 2020

There will be a video version of the service.

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