And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, Matt. 14:23
This little verse is wedged between the account of Jesus feeding the five thousand and then Jesus catching up to the disciples in the boat by walking on water. William Wordsworth wrote a famous poem that begins, “The world is too much with us…” and it would seem he and Jesus agree on that. Everybody, even Jesus, needs a getaway, a timeout, a time and place to let your mind breathe and your soul pray.
Today we live in a paradoxical situation; loneliness is epidemic, but there is also no place to go to get away from the world. People are stuck in their homes, especially if they live in retirement communities. But the internet brings the world everywhere. The world is too much with us. We panic when we’re unplugged, unconnected, out of touch, yet our constant connection to the world takes the place of genuine connection to other people and private connection to God. We’ve never been more immediately connected to the world and more isolated from genuine relationships.
Where do you go to get away? If your phone is there, or the tv is on, are you really getting away? When do you take time for devotions and prayer? Realizing that the sun will rise without you requires spiritual discipline. We like to keep ourselves busy because then we feel important and that we aren’t wasting time. But Jesus didn’t view it like that.
On the other, vegging is not getting away, either. Jesus didn’t plop himself down with a dumb magazine and a drink and call it “me time.” There is a discipline to it—a heightened awareness, a stilling of the spirit before God, a separation from the hustle and bustle of the world. It isn’t the same thing as selfish giving into sloth and bodily appetite. If it is “me time” it is only so by being “God time” first, since God is the only one who really knows you. He builds up, repairs, gives rest in ways that give genuine peace and rest. He is for you in far better ways than anything you can do if you try to be for yourself.
I hope this vacation season provides you with the sense of perspective that comes from getting out of your routine and your usual setting. I hope it gives you pause and rest and renewed spirit and sense of purpose. I hope it doesn’t feature endless selfies on social media, a 24/7 news cycle, or mere vegging out, but a genuine retreat from the world that is too much with us that is also an approach to a deeper relationship with God and with the loved ones He has placed in your life.
In Christ, Pastor Speckhard
Let the Word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Col. 3:16
Colossians is only 4 chapters long, so the whole book is very readable in one sitting. And really, the meat of it is chapters 2-3. I encourage you all to read at least those two chapters today. In them, St. Paul writes the words quoted above, about letting the Word of Christ dwell in our hearts in teaching and in song. But he urges them to do that having acknowledged in the previous chapter that he cannot be with them in the body, at least for the time being.
More importantly, this section of the Bible includes these words: Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Col. 2:16-17 We have the Christian freedom to figure how best to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in different ways suitable for different contexts.
Since we cannot be with each other in the body, and since we cannot celebrate the festivals by which we normally commemorate Holy Week (at least not in the usual way), we rejoice that we have the God-given opportunity nevertheless to ponder Christ and His Passion with the God-given freedom to do so in unusual ways given the circumstances. The main thing is that our hearts be fixed on Christ. Reading Colossians today will help that be the case for you.
Speaking of reading, have you read any good books lately? Sometimes good books (and yes, there is a difference between reading a good book and reading a book designed merely to distract and amuse) can help us ponder Christ and His Passion by explaining and illustrating the way a sermon would. Here are a few recommendations.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis is a fantasy story and Christian allegory that portrays the Christ figure as a fearsome Lion. You will note the obvious parallels in it to the Passion story of the Gospels. It is good for all ages, and a genuinely good book that also entertains.
Death on a Friday Afternoon, by Fr. R.J. Neuhaus (full disclosure, my uncle) is essentially a Tre Ore service in book form, with each chapter providing an extended theological reflection on one of the seven last words from the cross.
Grace Upon Grace, by John Kleinig is an excellent general introduction to practicing a deeper Christian spiritual life in a world obsessed with cheap, imitation spirituality.
But no book can replace Scripture. Read Colossians 2-3 today, and keep following the services online. Let other books like these help you think through and process the Word. St. Paul’s (the saint and the congregation) goal for you is that the Word of Christ continue to dwell in your richly in this time of being away from each other in the body and out of our normal rhythm of festivals. God is still with you!
Rev. Peter Speckhard, Senior Pastor at St. Paul's Ev. Lutheran Church, Munster, Indiana