I Will Give You Rest = Sheltering in Place and Physical Distancing
by Elbert van Donkersgoed
Today’s “Verse of the Day,” auto-emailed by Bible Gateway, received more than the usual quick read from me. “Verse of the Day” is usually my first early morning read before I become absorbed by the various reads that fill my inbox – about philosophy, religion, economics and politics.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28, NIV
It has been a wearying year. The pandemic has burdened us.
Last Christmas, our family celebrated Christmas outdoors: first course in the backyard of our son’s family home in Action; courses two and three on the driveways of our daughters’ family homes in Guelph, and final course in our garage, on our driveway and the sidewalks at the corner of Glasgow and Northumberland.
This year, we celebrated around our dining table with precautions in place: four air purifiers with HEPA filters, windows upstairs and down cracked open for fresh air, furnace fan on at all times and rapid tests for those who were in school or in close proximity to those experiencing Covid in the days before our gathering.
I end this year weary and burdened. Weary of the repetitive news footage of assembly lines filling vaccine bottles or yet other person receiving the jab as the messaging around Covid slowly shifts – yet again. Burdened, by having to remember to take a mask everywhere – although, also thankful for the diligent young man at Costco the other day who intercepted me with “Sir, you have no mask,” and I apologized and hoofed it back to our vehicle before my quick purchase of another air purifier.
It has been a wearying year. The pandemic has burdened us. Jesus, 2000 years ago, had a handle on the human condition – “all you who are weary and burdened.” And then He promised rest.
The pandemic has come with its own kind of rest: sheltering-in-place and physical distancing. We have been forced into less doing and less getting – for a time.
Now, I have no reason to suggest that our time of doing less and getting less is exactly the rest that Jesus promised. But, God’s creation, surely has delivered a message by pandemic – our pace of doing and getting is not fully sustainable. That message shouldn’t surprise us. The Bible is full of examples of sheltering in place and physical distancing.
- Consider Adam, sheltered in place in the Garden of Eden on assignment: “He (God) brought them (all the animals and the birds) to the man to see what he would name them;” Genesis 2:19 NIV I wonder how long that took.
- Consider Noah and his family, tucked away in the ark for more than a year: “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month….On that very day Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, together with his wife and the wives of his three sons, entered the ark.” Genesis 7:11-13 NIV
- Consider John the Baptist, his whole preaching career was based in a wilderness: “In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea.” Matthew 3:1 NIV
- Consider Jesus, getting ready to start his preaching ministry: “Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights….” Matthew 4:1-2 NIV
- Consider the Apostle Paul, doing some of his best writing from prison: “For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—” Ephesians 3:1 NIV
- Consider the Apostle John, in exile on the island of Patmos, writing to the churches and leaving us a glimpse of the future: “I, John….was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” Revelation 1:9 NIV
Sheltering in place and physical distancing are important. Can we learn to practise them without being pushed by pandemic? Jesus thinks we can – from the Message, Matthew 11:28-30: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”