Jul 6, 2012

What About the Sabbath?

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy”—God (Exodus 20:8).

Sabbath keeping’s primary principles are these: ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting. Each of these principles is clearly a focus of Exodus 20. Ceasing [from shabbat—to cease/desist] means faithful people break from anxiety, work, worry, accomplishment, possessiveness, etc. Notice that sabbath keeping in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5) sits between “you shall not make wrong use of the Lord’s name” and “honor your father and your mother.” The commandment pertaining to sabbath keeping gives us balance, in that “ceasing” divinely and persuasively mandates a break in our labor week. This suspension of our “business as usual” routine offers us a sense of the other six days’ wonder and blessing.

A second principle for sabbath keeping is rest. Resting too pertains to balance. The idea of rest is no doubt for our physical bodies, but more than that too. God can work in us most effectively—and we can respond to God most faithfully—when we are wholly in tune with God. Too many of us are distracted by the thousands of things that divert our attention. All of us are guilty of failing to rest on the sabbath, but as God originally conceived sabbath rest, God envisioned it as a foretaste of eternal life. At times the root of any problem is that we are simply too tired—either physically or mentally—to address it. When in doubt, take a nap—then address the source of your doubt.

A third principle for sabbath keeping is embracing. Embracing means permitting time for God and for family. This embracing time allows nurture for the most important relationships in one’s life. We are not simply producers of material or of information. Rather God creates us to experience relationship with the divine and with other people. The principle of “embracing” guards against two conditions that slip up on people who work too hard—anomie and ennui. Anomie means “personal unrest, alienation, and uncertainty that comes from a lack of purpose or ideals.” Likewise ennui is “a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from boredom or lack of interest.” Anomie and ennui signal that something in life is amiss. Yet with the speed of today’s life people accept this descriptor of American life as simply one of life’s “givens.” Sabbath allows time to embrace God in worship and each other in fellowship—God time and family time. Embracing our calling in life means we are related.

Finally, the last principle of our fourfold set of ceasing, resting, and embracing is the principle of feasting. Feasting is simply the enjoyment of life. It means taking the time to take pleasure in life by rejoicing in food and beauty. This means sabbath offers us permission and time to rejoice in music and the arts—rejoice in nature—rejoice in slowing down to be. We can enjoy what God created us to be. Our modern hi-tech society deprives us of these gifts and morphs into lost intimacy with God, ourselves, and others. Thus, in a culture that sees church, faith, religion, and spirituality as modern kill-joys, ironically the church uses sabbath to help faithful people reconnect. We re-connect by sabbath feasting. The primary principles of Sabbath keeping are: ceasing, resting, embracing, and feasting.

These are sabbath gifts from God to God’s people. So . . . learn to say thank you!

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