Good Friday and Sabbath

Lent is almost over. Good Friday is day 39 of 40. This has been an unusual Lent, with more lament and inconvenience than usual. 

As I have grown in faith I have come to realize that the death of Jesus has meaning on many different theological levels: being enthroned as true ruler of the world, exposing the scapegoat mechanism of the empire, providing atonement for sin, modeling the way of self-sacrifice, standing in solidarity with those who are unjustly punished, becoming the suffering servant. How does the death of Jesus resonate with you?

After spending some time with resources from the Bible Project, the interpretation that resonates with me this year is that of Sabbath rest. Perhaps the most famous reference to this idea is the the sign of Jonah: “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:40). Drawing on eschatological notions of a future Sabbath (mostly from the Psalms), some scholars have concluded that the Sabbath rest that Jesus experiences while his body is in the tomb is a prefiguring of a cosmic rest that all people will some day experience in Christ.

While for many people the pandemic is not a time of “rest,” it is a time of great inconvenience in which we must refrain from our routines and community activities. In this way our experiences reflect the  “inconveniences” of the Sabbath such as prohibitions against buying and selling. On a larger scale this time might reflect the intent of the year of Jubilee — a total socio-economic reset for the land and the people, which is presented as a super-Sabbath (Lev 25). Our current “rest” has only come because of a time of great “reset,” and one that reveals economic and racial injustice in our US context. 

But there is hope. The effort for a more just world in which all creation flourishes together is headed by Jesus, the one who starts by announcing the year of Jubilee (Luke 4:19) and is crowned the “Lord of the Sabbath.” In this paradoxical time of rest and inconvenience and lament Jesus has gone before us and is with us now as we walk our own “lonesome valley.” We sojourn with Jesus wondering what we can learn from suffering, how we can grow in faith and what we might do in service of God’s great acts of re-creation. 

How is this time of quarantine like an extended time of Sabbath? What have you learned about yourself by being inconvenienced? How can this time draw you closer to God? I invite you to meditate on Jesus’s invitation: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).

– Mitchell Eithun

Learning to enjoy Sabbath/ Sunday

To my delight, it was fairly unanimous during our Bible Study that Sabbath (e.g., Sunday rest) is considered to be a blessing. At the same time, it was also obvious that it was complicated. Some in the group had grown up with very strict guidelines of what should and should not happen on Sunday. Others had had very little structure in their day, making the day be not all that significant. Neither of these are what we really want for our lives now, but it’s not so easy to figure out how to do Sunday/ Sabbath well in the midst of busy, full lives in a way that fits who we are and remains intentionally turned towards God.

Suprisingly enough, seeing Sabbath as being more of a gift full of freedom makes it easier, I believe, to turn towards God. This is not to say to say that things like attending church or Bible reading aren’t important – they are! – but Sabbath ought not to be limited to God things or good Christian activities. It’s not supposed to be another day we strive to be good or please God. Sabbath is about slowing down and delighting in God’s world around us, both the creation and the people in our lives. Sometimes a bit of planning helps, at least to make sure that others are also available and also to push those of us who are lazy to actively participate in enjoying. It’s also good to realize that Sabbath isn’t just about one day, but about an attitude that will hopefully (after practicing it more intentionally on Sunday) carry on throughout the week, so that we slow down, realize that we are not in control, turn actively towards God, and delight in the good gifts He has given us.

It is also helpful to see Sabbath as a practice and discipline. Not because it’s one more thing we have to be good at as Christians, but to see that it takes practice to get better at it. Furthermore, just like some people take to jogging long distances more easily than others, some people take to the discipline of Sabbath more easily than others. Those of us who are naturally more worried or tend towards feelings of guilt often have difficulties with Sabbath, and perhaps it is easiest to take it at small doses at a time or find a ‘running buddy’ to do it. For those of us who are overachievers and define ourselves a bit too much on the basis of what we do, it can help to see Sabbath as being a way to refresh and renew, recognizing that rest actually makes us better productive. My hope, though, is that Sabbath becomes a gift to all of us – a day we look forward to for spending time turning towards God, without expectations or guilt or pressure.

Campus Making Reflection – Bryan Crutcher

My time at the conference was definitely productive and healthy. Being around other campus leaders and students was not only good for networking, but for growth. It always helps to see other Christian leaders to compare notes, ideas, and experiences. Having a community of those around you who share you beliefs and are in the same types of environments allows each of us to build upon each other. This conference provided a time of fellowship and learning, but more importantly for me, it was time with God. Being away from any cities or highly populated areas, and just out in the country was very much needed. It allowed me to really try and connect with God on a deeper level, without the hustle and bustle of all the things that compete for our attention. Nature is a way that I communicate with God and find solace with Him. This conference provided the location, opportunity, and motivation to do so. One final note is that it gave me a deeper perspective of the Christian Reformed Church, given that I come from a Pentecostal background. It was interesting to engage in conversation with those not from the same background as myself. However, we all did share one thing, a love for Jesus Christ.

-Bryan Crutcher

Reflections on “Campus Making” – Austin Dreyer

It was my honor to attend the Campus Making ministry conference, May 7-9 in Guelph, Canada.  There were many facets of the three-day retreat that will leave a lasting impression on me, not the least of which was the fact it fell on my first consecutive days above 70 degrees Fahrenheit in 2013!  The purpose of the retreat was for people invested in campus ministries from campuses across Canada and the United States to gather and experience God in community.  This included worshiping together, attending workshops tackling controversial topics, eating meals together, swapping stories around a campfire and several keynote addresses by the author, Andy Crouch. For me, the conference proved to be a much-needed break from my regular schedule as a graduate student in addition to a spiritual renewal for my dedication to the Campus Edge ministry at Michigan State University.

The specific location of the conference was the Crieff Hills Conference Center, where their tagline is, “A place apart.”  I was struck by how easily the center lived up to this promise, primarily by having miles (or kilometers perhaps, we were in Canada after all) of trails to roam, and extremely limited Internet access.  Technology in general is often demonized for constructing barriers between people in this world of personalized entertainment and the constant barrage of e-mails that demand our attention over the people sitting in the same room as us. Having those links intentionally severed was very liberating.  And having the opportunity to run over some trails through the forest combined with freedom from my electronic leash did much to clear my head.

Given a wonderful setting to encounter the glory of God’s creation, the only other ingredient for a conference is filling the space with awesome people.  And the people that gathered with us at Crieff Hills fit that bill to a ‘T’. It was a mix of graduate students, undergraduates, campus ministers, retired ministers, spouses, old, young, Pentecostal, Christian Reformed, the list goes on and on. I was really blown away by the variety of people in attendance. It was thoroughly refreshing to spend time with people outside of my typical departmental and even institutional bubble.  In fact, Americans were in the minority at this conference, and I can’t remember the last time I attended a meeting where that was the case! The real value of that diversity, for me, came in conversations with people from so many miles away, both geographically and spiritually in terms of faith journeys. To hear all of us discuss the same topics and be able to offer guidance to one another was a very satisfying experience. I know it will also be a source of courage the next time we face a challenge at MSU, knowing full well that so many brothers and sisters on campuses across North America are facing the same struggles with us. 

The actual title for the conference was “Campus Making:  Playing with Power.” Our unifying theme was that we all felt called to share the gospel with those around us on our respective campuses, a powerful mandate indeed. To that end, there were keynote addresses by the author, Andy Crouch, and many workshops focusing on issues that are highly relevant to a body of believers reaching out to the campus community structure.  Both of these activities gave me abundant food for thought, and while I did not agree with everything that was said, I took my discomfort as an indicator that I was plugged in and actively participating in what was going on around me.  And for anyone that knows me and my potent sweet-tooth, the candy the organizers provided at each keynote was quite literally the icing on the cake for those times we gathered together to engage with what Andy had to say.

In the end, the conference boiled down to just a few key components for me.  It was a time for me to experience community with other individuals who, like me, desire to grow campus ministry.  It was also a time for me to worship with, and get to know better, the people that lead my campus ministry with me.  As we participate in different worship bodies back at MSU, I enjoyed having time together with my comrades at Campus Edge and simply praising God. I am very thankful for the opportunity I had to set aside a few days to focus solely on our creator and how he can use us in his good works.  And ultimately, as a result of the conference, I am more eagerly than ever anticipating another year of ministering to graduate students at Michigan State University.