The concept of Sabbath rest has all but disappeared. Maybe it’s our fast-paced culture with competitive deadlines for everything from work goals and preparations to how many times we work out in a week to when the youngest child is officially potty trained and at what age our children learn to read, play the piano, get admitted to college…with a full ride scholarship…or create the next Nobel prize winning solution for sustainable energy. We jump on the treadmill of life and think we are riding it to fulfillment. Yet, something seems to be missing. Maybe we just need to try harder – one more class, one more private lesson, one more camp, lecture, hour at work, pound lost, and the list goes on to infinitude…another purse, a new car, membership at the club, a promotion, partnership…
There doesn’t seem to be time to rest!
Another group of people become enslaved by something they call Sabbath. It begins with some form of worship, which is good! The problem is, it threads through a day governed with “you must not” decrees. “You must not work.” “You must not play sports.” “You must not shop.” “You must not cook, clean, mow the lawn or wash the car.” Troubling questions about the “you must not’s” include, if I go to dinner at a restaurant, am I forcing someone else to sin because it means they are working on the Sabbath? Or, what do I tell my son or daughter’s soccer team when they have a game or, worse yet, a tournament on the Sabbath? What if the Sabbath is the only day of the week I have to run errands, buy groceries, do laundry and plan for the upcoming week? What if I have to work on the Sabbath? It’s as if the religious rules for the Sabbath squelch emotional relaxation rather than secure the intended outcome of renewing and refreshing human life.
The problem might be in how we recognize and practice Sabbath rest.
Mark 2:27-28 has been batted around for years as a key to understanding what the Sabbath is all about.
Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’
It’s all good until the last part. At face value, it sounds like we can do whatever we want to do on the Sabbath because it’s made for humankind! But, like much of scripture, it becomes a bit naggy and hard to understand. What does it mean to say “the Son of Man is Lord…even of the Sabbath?” The key can be found in the verses right before, where the Christ and the disciples glean some grain from a field because they were hungry, and the verses following when Christ healed a man’s withered hand. So what gives with that? We can garden and heal on the Sabbath? But nothing else? Jesus, lord of the Sabbath, let us know that stuff happens…even on the Sabbath…and deep human compassion comes before human devised strict rules
Maybe if we go back to the instructions given to the Israelites in Exodus 20:8 about the Sabbath we can find another clue.
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor 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.
Yes, this is the 4th of the 10 Commandments. It is a bridge between the first 3, which speak about our relationship with God and the final 6 which guide us in family, business, neighbor, friend and all human relationships. There is something here…something that is essential for living as God created us to live in the world that God created for us to live in.
Tripping even further back in scripture we find the stories of creation in Genesis 1:1-2:3, which narrates a 7-day account of creation, and Genesis 2:4-25, which focuses on humanity’s creation. Keep in mind; these are creation stories – not historical accounts. They were designed to let the listeners or readers know that God created the earth, plants, animals and people. God saw that all these things were good and then sat back and rested after such frenzied activity.
So, where does that leave us in our 21st century lives?
Sometimes we simply have to take a break from the routine of life. It doesn’t matter if it’s a job or something fun – we need a break from it. That break time has a purpose. Some of that time should be spent in meditation, worship, prayer or whatever it is that keeps us mindful that God is here, with us, alive and present in all things. Read that again…here, with us, alive and present in all things. God isn’t distant and contained in some ambiguous place above the clouds. God is here, with us, alive and present in all things. When we pause, we need to recognize and celebrate that presence in each other, in nature, in our pets, our employees, our bosses, our teammates, our neighbors, our relatives and our own hearts. It’s looking at the pause as time to remember and find ways to enact the entirety of the 10 Commandments as loving God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves. Whose are we and how do we live once we embrace God (Jesus) as Lord?
Okay, it can all seem like theological rhetoric, but what does the Sabbath pause actually mean in our lives today?
Everything, even the good stuff, can get old if we saturate our lives with it. I call it the chocolate cake theory simply because I LOVE chocolate cake. However, if I ate chocolate cake every day it would become routine and unappreciated; dull and somewhat boring. I could dress it up with ice cream, which would make it appealing for a day or two. Or, add a ganache topping, some whipped cream and a cherry. I can keep busy making my chocolate cake better and better with more and more and more…or I could pause and remember why I like chocolate cake. You see, for me chocolate cake reminds me of being a child and enjoying a family celebration. I remember rooms filled with love and laughter as family members shared stories and the rich history of who we are and from whom we came from. It is those kinds of memories that thread through and impact all that we do if we simply take the time to reflect and remember. When we forget to pause, we go on autopilot and forget the essence of why we do what we do…the who we are and Whose we are concept.
I can certainly go back to chocolate cake after the pause, but maybe this time I will see it differently. I might share it with someone who needs a gentle bit of encouragement or who is grieving a loss. Maybe I’ll share it with a friend who is celebrating a wonderful event. I might take a piece to the neighbor who is alone and struggling with life. You see, the memories of why I love chocolate cake become as important as the cake itself, but only if I take the time to remember.
I don’t know if it is right or wrong to work, shop, or play sports on the sabbath. I do know if we pause and remember that God is love, that love will guide us in all we do making the specifics a moot point.
For those of you following Sophia Meditations, you know that I haven’t written my weekly blog for some time now. You see, I needed a pause to refresh, renew and remember. Now, it’s time to have some chocolate cake!