Let us pause in life’s pleasures and count its many tears, While we all sup sorrow with the poor; There’s a song that will linger forever in our ears; Oh, hard times come again no more.
’Tis the song, the sigh of the weary. Hard times, hard times, come again no more. Many days you have lingered around my cabin door; Oh, hard times come again no more.
While we seek mirth and beauty and music light and gay, There are frail forms fainting at the door; Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say, Oh, hard times, come again no more.
’Tis the song, the sigh of the weary. Hard times, hard times, come again no more. Many days, you have lingered around my cabin door; Oh, hard times come again no more.
—“Hard Times” by Stephen Foster
I wish that’s how it worked, that if just figured out the right song to sing, or the right prayer to say, that a magical box of light would open. I wish God were like a bubble-gum-ball machine and if I stuck in a quarter, I’d get out the exact color and flavor of candy I wanted. But that’s not how it works.
It’s been a hard year. We lost friends. They betrayed us, because we were so awfully selfish sometimes. Our kids got sick. Our parents got sick. Our pets were sent off to farms way out in the country.
Our husbands abandoned us. Our wives stopped needing us. Houses burned. Relationships burned. Communities were flooded and torn apart by hunger, and wind, and rain, and metal, raining down like fire from the sky.
Before I actually got paid to write for a living, I was a chef and a baker for many years, ten of which were at Big Lake Youth Camp just outside Sisters, Oregon. Hutchmoot, reminds me a lot of camp, not just because I’m cooking for 400 people again, but because days were full — wake boarding, and mountain biking, softball, capture the flag, horseback riding, and so much singing. And yes, meals were important too, but we couldn’t let them get in the way of the other adventures.
From start to finish, meals took twenty minutes. To this day, I marvel at how that was accomplished. Campers filed in, their food waiting for them as they arrived, and 20 minutes later, 400 people had finished dining, wiped off their tables, and were off to their next activity.
Big Lake was also a Seventh-day Adventist Camp, and Adventists observe a Sabbath, very similar to the Jews, setting aside a specific twenty-four hours from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset to rest and connect with God and one another. But Sabbath dinner at camp was still in and out in twenty minutes and didn’t feel very restful or set aside.
At some point we decided we wanted to honor a Sabbath, one that we, at least intellectually, believed in. We intentionally set aside an hour —one whole hour — for people to eat, commune, to enjoy each other’s company.
The first week we did it everyone was done eating and ready to leave in twenty minutes. It was awfully uncomfortable as we asked everyone to remain seated, to stay, and spend time with one another. We had forgotten how to do it. It got better, easier maybe, after weeks, after years of doing it, after years of being asked to slow down, to rest, to enjoy one another’s company, for a few moments to simply be.
As a commandment, Sabbath is mentioned a couple of times to the Jews. One of course is in Exodus in the first reading of the ten commandments. In verse eleven it says that God made the world and all that was in it, and called it good. And so after six days of creating, on the seventh day he rested and blessed it and made it holy. It’s mentioned again in Deuteronomy, chapter five. Remember the Sabbath day, for once you were slaves in Egypt, but the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Once you were slaves, but now you are free.
Tonight we have the Sabbath meal from Big Lake Youth Camp, the one we used to learn to connect with each other again, to slow down, to rest, to enjoy a few moments pause in communion with God and one another, to, as so many in this fellowship have said, push back against the darkness.
Like in Narnia, when the winter is melting, and the brethren are feasting and the witch finds them in their merriment. “It is true,” the squirrel says defiantly. “This feast was a gift.” It is not just food, after all, that she is so upset at, but their protest against the darkness, that in their togetherness lies a belief that good will win in the end.
I’m afraid not even this special commandment is a box of magic light. I do my best, most weeks, to observe a Sabbath, and life is still so hard sometimes. And I know, they’re just bowls soups.
But I hope that as we feast from these coffers, you are reminded that there is so much good, so much good that we are working together to create in this world, that in creating and enjoying creation, we are adding our own magic light to the story. I know, I know they’re just bowls of soup, but I hope that through them you are reminded that with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, God saved you, that you were once slaves, but now you are free.