The Sabbath is made for us; we were not made for the Sabbath (cf. Mk. 2:27). The Sabbath, in all of its forms, was established so that we can rest. It was never meant to be used to prevent us from doing what was necessary to survive. Our rest makes sure we do not burn out from excessive labor. When we are exhausted, rest helps us regain our energy, and when it is replenished, we find our emotional well-being is also improved.
We need rest, not only for physical reasons, but for spiritual ones as well. Our ultimate rest in God. Spiritually, the worship which takes place on Sunday, the New Sabbath, reminds us of this. God does not need our worship, rather, we need what God offers us, the grace which replenishes our worn-out spirit, the grace which we receive in and through proper forms of worship. True worship is done in and out of love, and it is through such love, we transcend ourselves and all undue attachments which would limit our reception of God’s grace into our lives. We worship God in the spirit of love, and in that love, God welcomes us with love. We ourselves to that love so that can rest in the bounty of God’s love.
Whatever rest we need, we should be able to receive on our Sabbath. Nonetheless, we also should not ignore our necessities and dealing with them as they reveal themselves to us. Sometimes, the two go together – sometimes, we really need physical rest, and those who do so, should not be ashamed but comforted instead of having unjust demands, unjust obligations, placed upon them. Abba Poemen understood this. He sympathized with those who came exhausted to the synaxis, that is, to the community gathering for worship. He treated those who fell asleep during the service with compassion, allowing them to rest instead of trying to wake them up:
Some old men came to see Abbe Poemen and said to him, ‘When we see brothers who are dozing at the synaxis, shall we rouse them so that they will be watchful?’ He said to them, ‘For my part when I see a brother dozing, I put his head on my knees and let him rest.’
The Sabbath is for rest. Poemen understood that those who came to worship but fell asleep needed physical rest. He indicated that they should not be ridiculed. Rather, they fulfill the spirit of the Sabbath in their own way. They are getting the rest which they need. This is not to say we should disregard the value of liturgical celebrations. We should not go with the intent to sleep. That is not their purpose. But if we want to worship God, if we want to embrace God with love and rest in God, and yet find ourselves unable to stay awake, we should rest assured that God understands and will give us what we need. And others, looking upon us, should show us the same mercy as Abba Poemen; no one should be made a spectacle during liturgy. Those who go to a liturgical service and look for ways to judge others, look for ways to hold others in contempt for not following their legalistic expectations of how they think that someone else should act in such a situation, have not embraced the spirit of the Sabbath for themselves. They are not at rest, but rather, they are working hard to find ways to condemn others. The risk suffering the condemnation which they give to others, as Jesus warned:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, `Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye (Matt. 7:1-5 RSV).
Therefore, we should be compassionate to those around us when we go to any liturgical celebration. We do not know the circumstances of their life. We do not know their needs. We should focus on ourselves, on our own spiritual life. We should make sure we follow the spirit of the Sabbath. We must put our judgmental spirit to rest. We must not let it stir us up, for if we do, we leave behind the love which we need to have if we want to find our rest in God. To be sure, this is not always easy. We have our own personal likes and dislikes, things which we are used to, and those which we are not used to and which confuse us. And, certainly, when we gather together with others, those likes and dislikes will influence us and how we perceive others. We must do what we can not to let those influences harm us.
We must die to the self; we must put our egotistical desires and the demands they would place upon others to rest if we want spiritual rest. Sometimes, this might require us to engage creative solutions. For example, if we do not like what we see, perhaps we should close our eyes, so then we will not be distracted by such sights. What is important is that we find ways to silence our judgmental things, for when we do that, we will find ourselves that much more open to God and the grace which God offers us. Then, we will truly be able to experience the Sabbath rest as we truly rest in God and not in ourselves. Then we will truly understand the Sabbath itself.
 The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 179-180 [Saying of Poemen 92].
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