The Rev. Miriam Schmidt, an ELCA missionary, is the pastor of the Bratislava International Church in Slovakia. These reflections on the Sabbath and other entries by Miriam and Jeremy Blythe can be read at their blog, šíriť dobru’ zvest. To support Miriam and Jeremy, or another of the ELCA’s over 200 missionaries in the global church, go to www.ELCA.org/4missionaries.
Many things are on hold for the summer months at the Bratislava International Church — no Bible study, no choir, no Sunday school. We rest from these activities. Yet on Sunday morning, God continues to gather an assembly. So we listen for God’s word in our midst, trusting that it is very near; we sing out our sorrows, and sing of God’s grace; we share the Eucharist meal, hoping for, tasting, week after week, the true presence of Christ.
Church continues, but we are also in transition. Our Young Adults in Global Mission participants complete their last official day of service today in Hungary. Tomorrow, they travel here and take part in this Sunday’s worship. Then we’ll all head out together to the High Tatras to make an end of their time here. We’ll pray together, study Scripture, and hike. We’ll reflect, and I hope this retreat also offers them something that one rarely gets living abroad for a year in a foreign land: Sabbath rest.
I find it wonderful and challenging that the Ten Commandments include a law about the Sabbath. Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy. Of course, this commandment has been interpreted in countless ways. But for me, at root, it has two parts: The commandment calls us to actually make space in our lives for rest, and at the same time remember that true rest is only possible in and through God. Sabbath rest is always God’s gift to us, a gift that God knows we need.
Those who can and do keep Sabbath are blessed, for we have the ability to rest from actual work. Many are searching, longing for work that will bring food to their tables, and pay the rent for the month. Sabbath rest seems impossible until there first is work. Others work all the time, at home, at a shop or an office; there seems no end to the work that must be done. The only rest comes in exhausted sleep at night. Sabbath rest, holy, God-given rest, seems illusive, the property of the rich or the lazy.
In any case, I am grateful to God that in the midst of a Bratislava summer, our family was able to go away from the city for 10 days. During that holiday, I was gifted with Sabbath rest.
We were up in the Maly Fatra mountains, staying with friends in some old wooden cabins, a 40-minute hike or jeep ride away from the nearest village. The grandmother — who has been coming to this place every year since 1968 — called it holy. And though I believe that God can make any place holy, even the most vile and degraded corners of this earth, there is something about a cabin in the mountains — no email, no electricity, chop wood and carry water, soak in the cows and the rolling mountains and the sun and meals with friends. It’s not everyone’s idea of a vacation. But for me, it is indeed holy, Sabbath-full.
The place, Podsip, was special enough that we even left our coffee pot there — a little Italian percolator, that has traveled with us on numerous camping trips, to Guyana and back, and to every other place we’ve lived over the last 10 years. We left it there, so that others might enjoy good coffee in that holy mountain retreat, and in hopes that we might go back there some day and use it again.
Now we are back in Bratislava, ready to purchase a new coffeepot. But in all seriousness, I am ready to be here with the Bratislava International Church assembly and with the Young Adults in Global Mission participants. I am ready to breathe out and accomplish the work that I am here to do, since I returned filled up with so much holy, Sabbath breath. My lungs are thick with it.
So my prayer is this: May God grant all of you some measure of Sabbath — this summer, and regularly, throughout your years.