April 2014

A Sabbath Day for Lent?

One of the complaints that is made by many, and also by me, is that life is busy and full. There never seem to be enough hours in the day. Not always, but often, space for God is squeezed out in a rush to get things done. Even if we know where to start, how can we fit in still more?

We can often fall into the trap of thinking that the life of the spirit is only nurtured by what we do. We must read our Bibles more, serve others more, pray more, do more. But what about what we don't do—about choosing to stop, be still, and withdraw from our activism?

A rhythm of work and rest is outlined in Scripture as basic to the human condition and to our spiritual wellbeing. It can be seen at its best in the ideal of the Sabbath. The Biblical context for understanding Sabbath is the creation of the world: on the seventh day God ceased creating and rested (Genesis 2: 3). This divine example is the basis for the later Sabbath commandment to the people of Israel (Exodus 20:8-11) made in the image of God, we rest because God rested. The Sabbath is commanded again in Deuteronomy (5: 15) for a slightly different reason: "Remember that you were slaves in Egypt." Slaves have no rights to rest or to play — these are the gifts of freedom.

But how is a Sabbath different from simply having "a day off"? The crucial distinction is that "God blessed the Sabbath and made it holy" (Exodus 20:11). It is a day set apart from our normal activities to attend to God and what he is doing. We quit our work and contemplate his; our work becomes participation in God's work. And perhaps surprisingly, we find we're not indispensable — we discover again that God is running the world and can be trusted with it while we rest.

So what are some specific suggestions for Sabbath keeping? Take a day, any day, and quit working. Spend time with friends and family; take a quiet prayer walk through God's creation; engage in a creative hobby.

Marva Dawn in her book ‘Keeping the Sabbath Wholly’ describes how she has a deliberate start and finish to her Sabbath. She prays and lights candles to welcome and close the Sabbath and explicitly mark that this is a special, unique day in her week. She eats something different for breakfast on her Sabbath day, to remind herself that this day is set apart. She focuses on relationships and not on jobs, and stays away from shops because of their lure back into materialism.

Finally, Sabbath-keeping is about being intentional, not about being legalistic or engaging in guilt trips when it doesn't quite work out. We remember that Jesus observed the Sabbath but consistently placed people above the strict practices of the day, preferring relationships over rules. The Sabbath is a gift, not a burden.

Perhaps in this time of Lent when many of us try to refocus our lives in preparation for Good Friday and Easter Day, we can rediscover the Sabbath – an invitation to a time of rest, prayer, people and play – good work deserves a good Sabbath.


April 2014