Wednesday 14th April
Exodus 20: 8-11
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
This is the first of three major moments in the Torah where the law to keep Sabbath is asserted, and each time there is a different meaning attached to its importance. In Exodus, keeping Sabbath is a reminder of creation: God rested after the creation of the universe, likewise for us. In Deuteronomy, their liberation from Egyptian slavery is referenced. Between the two stands the detailed legal account in Leviticus 23, with the explanation that it is to be a holy occasion and a sign for the generations after them.
The late Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explained that these three moments explain the three major elements of religion: creation (God’s relationship to the world), revelation (God’s relationship to us), and redemption (the union of God’s will and ours).
So, keeping Sabbath is not supplementary. Yet, nearly two millennia later, Jesus places his own interpretation of Sabbath for a generation for which Sabbath keeping has lost meaning: Sabbath is made for us, we are not made for the Sabbath. Meaning, far from it being an ‘obligation’ or imposition, it is supposed to be a source of liberation, connection and transformation.
We hardly consider Sabbath in this way. We are caught up in what Walter Breuggemann calls “a culture of restlessness.” Before the pandemic, weekly worship was side-lined by football matches and sleeping in on Sunday. These days, in streaming worship, I must remind the virtual congregation of rules of etiquette; like keeping the audio on mute, etc. Surprisingly, it is more difficult for us to offer space to God in our own homes than it is in a sanctuary. We seek experiences of worship that allows us to stay just the way we are, and at our peril, that maintains predictability even as the world around us is changing.
To ‘keep Sabbath’ is to be mindful of the sacredness of time, that time itself belongs to God and is for our benefit.
Neither a vacation or a heavy load;
Time with You is a joy and a treasure.
May the busyness and burden of life
Never separate us from the holiness of rest
and the wholeness of Divine kinship.