May 2015

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.
[Exodus 20:8-10a]

Greetings in the name of Christ;

Thoughts on Sabbath Time

Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat which means to cease or desist. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary defines Sabbath as “the weekly day of rest and abstention from work enjoined upon the Israelites.”

There are two major rationales for Sabbath observance. The concept of the Sabbath as a memorial to God’s resting from the work of creation is expressed in Genesis 2:1-3 and Exodus 20:11 and 31:17. A distinctly humanistic approach can be found in Exodus 23:12 and Deuteronomy 5:14-15, both of which is based on the observance of the Sabbath on the need to give servants, strangers, and work animals an opportunity to rest.

One of the most important parts of scheduling our life we routinely disregard to our detriment is sufficient rest. It has been said that because we do not rest, we lose our way.

The essence of Sabbath is rest and renewal of the soul. In good Jewish fashion, this naturally includes our bodies and minds. If rest does not reach the depths of our souls, it is merely vacation, not Sabbath.

We need time out with God, not just time off from work. As I read Soul Feast – An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life by Marjorie J. Thompson for a recent assignment, I found an interesting commentary that describes many of us. Essentially, Ms. Thompson pointed out that we have become electronically wired from unremitting availability to one another via cell phones, email, texting, and social media. She points out that we would do well to recall that Jesus was not always available to people when he walked this earth. Much to the consternation of family, disciples, crowds, and religious leaders, Jesus simply disappeared at regular intervals to be sustained and renewed in his relationship with the One whose life he so intimately shared and from whom his power of ministry came.

In this article I address Sabbath in broader terms then just Sunday. The term Sabbath as I use it in this article refers to the qualities of Sabbath time that may be sought or secured on days other than the day formally set apart by tradition.

The Jewish Sabbath, adhering to the creation story in Genesis, is celebrated on the seventh day. For Christians Sabbath begins the week. Sunday is the first day, chosen to displace the historic day of Sabbath because the Resurrection of Jesus on the first day of the week inaugurates the “new creation” story. Ms. Thompson tells us Sabbath should be a profoundly joyful refreshment from which new effort arises, the deep well from which we draw strength, and the eternal newness at the root of all creativity. As a result, Sabbath is a primary experience of grace, the gift that enables our human journey.

Recall how the creation story in Genesis 1 describes “day” as beginning at sundown: “There was evening and there was morning – the first day”, “There was evening and there was morning – the second day” and so on. Stop for a moment and consider starting your day with the evening meal, then getting ready for bed. The first third of your day is spent in sleep, trusting that God is at work through the night without your conscious participation. We wake and are called out to participate in God’s creative action. We wake into a world we didn’t make, into a salvation we didn’t earn.

When we neglect Sabbath time as a life-sustaining rhythm, we risk great damage to ourselves and our communities as well as to our capacity for intimacy with God. Keeping the Sabbath means putting our faith and hope in God above all else. Honoring Sabbath time teaches us to release our treasured illusions of being indispensable, allowing us to “let God be God.”

If we hope to be faithful to the Sabbath command, we will need to identify and shift certain ingrained attitudes and habits. Here are a few ideas for shifting unhelpful mind-sets:

Give yourself permission to carve out regular Sabbath time from the massive over-commitment that marks most of modern life.

  1. Begin to free yourself from culturally embedded patterns of people pleasing (you will most likely find that the more you are aware of God’s love for you, the less you will live your life trying to please people).
  2. Give yourself the gift of intentional “fallow time” for mind and heart. Even healthy soil needs periodic rest from planting to rebuild its nutrients.

Take time to ponder, reflect, and imagine. Build unstructured time into your weekly calendar.

In faithful service,

Don Baker

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