“They shall not enter my rest”

The Letter to the Hebrews contains a long reflection, almost a sermon, on the final verses of Psalm 95 (Hebrews 3.1-4.13). The Letter is written to a discouraged community of Hebrew Christians and its purpose is to draw them back to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of the faith.

One of the questions Hebrews grapples with is the question of whether it is possible to begin the journey of faith with God and yet to fall away from God’s love and grace.  The Letter concludes that this is possible and uses the analogy of the Israelites in the wilderness and Psalm 95 as an example.  The generation of the Exodus saw the great miracles of God’s deliverance yet lacked the faith to see the journey through.    God will persist and persist in his faithfulness and love yet if we do not respond there is in the end nothing that can be done.

But where are we going?  What is our destination?  How is the end of the journey described in both Psalm 95 and in Hebrews?  One word is used but it is a very rich one: Rest.  Hebrews expands the term Rest to Sabbath Rest: the peace and stillness at the end of the journey.  Rest describes the reflection which follows the activity of the day.  It describes the holiday at the end of the school term, in the image of C.S. Lewis.  It describes the end of the striving and struggle without and within: the time of joy, of contemplation, of fulfillment, of completion which comes at the end of every life lived in Christ.  It describes the coming of the kingdom of justice and peace to the earth, God’s reign.

The final verse of the Psalm should fill our hearts and minds with that picture and vision of Rest and peace at the end of our days.  That vision is not to distract us from the struggles of this life or dull our longing for justice, but to give us perspective, strength and perseverance within them.  This life is not the end of the story.  There is a better chapter still to come.  The Psalm invites us, once again, as part of our journey to that promised land, to listen to his voice today, to hear God’s word, to respond in faith and to take the next steps with courage, in hope and with joy.

This post is one of a series of daily reflections on Psalm 95 in January, at the start of the Diocese of Sheffield Centenary Year

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