Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sabbath's Rest

I wrote earlier about a book I was reading about time, "Receiving the Day." One thing it discusses is the Sabbath; what was it in Biblical times, why God gave it to us, why we are to keep it holy and unto the Lord, how it has changed in Christianity, and how it is still relevant today. It got me to thinking that I am not good at all at keeping the Sabbath, sure I go to church every Sunday, I worship and serve the Lord through out my week, but I do not keep a day set aside for rest (neither Saturday or Sunday). The author is quick to note that we don't need to feel burden by the Sabbath in rules and regulations, Jesus himself said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."
However, I feel like we tend to abuse this and don't allow ourselves to receive the full measure of blessing that a Sabbath's rest can have for us and more importantly what God intended for the Sabbath. Out of the Ten Commandments the longest most specific command is that of keeping the Sabbath. It tells us a few things: 1. to remember the Sabbath, 2. to keep it holy, 3. that we work 6 days, but the 7th is to be kept for the Lord, 4. no one in our house or in our employment is to work on the Sabbath, 5. that the Lord modeled the Sabbath in creation, 6. we are reminded again that the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy. It also amazes me how seriously God takes this command in the old testament. Much of the reason the Lord sent Israel into bondage was because of their failure to keep this simple blessed command. In the book of Nehemiah he realized this and after re-building the walls and leaving for some time he returns to find work being done on the Sabbath this is his response, "I rebuked the nobles of Judah and said to them, "What is this wicked thing you are doing—desecrating the Sabbath day? Didn't your forefathers do the same things, so that our God brought all this calamity upon us and upon this city? Now you are stirring up more wrath against Israel by desecrating the Sabbath." (Neh. 13:17)
It got me to thinking that in many ways we aren't trained as children to keep the Sabbath, just like it had been in Israel for several generations. We don't know what a day of rest even looks like. Is it a day watching TV or playing sports all day? Is it worshiping the Lord and sitting in candle light twiddling our thumbs? This is a question that Judaism has pondered since well, probably before Nehemiah's time, but the general consensus is that any thing considered work isn't to be done for sundown of one day to sundown of the next day. Work is most commonly defined as commerce (any buying or selling), changing of the natural course of nature, and doing anything that is tiring of the mind or body. Somethings are actually encouraged on the Sabbath in Judaism tradition: light exercise (like walking), enjoy the fruit of the marriage bed :), games and fun as a family, fellowship with others, and worship of God. Still, the Sabbath isn't easy to keep.
Just today I tried to keep the Sabbath as a day of total rest, yet two things kept nagging at me, first all the work around me that needed to be done, and second that straying from my normal routine to rest isn't at all in my nature. I felt lazy or unproductive not being able to do my normal daily routine of work. One quote in the book, really struck me, "Show me a person that can't get their work done in six days and I will show you a person that can't get their work done in seven." It is true, it must be a priority and something that is intentionally set aside to the Lord. Also, the author noted that it is a common Jewish thought that the Sabbath is one of God's ways of reminding us to hand our burdens to the Lord; that the one day we cease to work the work of nature and of the Lord is taking our place. Fields still grow, rain still comes, the Lord never slumber or sleeps and in that we must place our trust and be humble enough to lay down the tools of our trade in faith of a God who works for us. What an encouraging promise!
The author closes her discussion on the Sabbath with these words, "Beyond the weekly refreshment it provides, this kind of time also nourishes an alternative vision of how things could be. It sows seeds of resistance to the unjust arrangements the deny freedom both to those who must work with out respite and to those who chose to do so. It lets us see that things could be otherwise than they are. Just as society challenges Sabbath, so Sabbath challenges society." I had never thought of the benefits that the Sabbath brings to all in our society. All are even some what effected by it, even if they don't fully observe it.
So, here is to another week of work, another Sabbath to enjoy and to practice resting in the fullness of the Lord's blessings and promises!