Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sabbathing, Part 2--What No One Explains About Sabbath

This is the week we move.  As you read this, I should be somewhere in Oregon or California, and we're planning to spend our Sabbath on the beach.  We almost never skip church, but that's not as pious as it sounds. Until this week, Jim was the pastor.

Ironically, this is one of the first times we get to actually keep the command not to work on Sabbath.  For most of our married life, Sabbath had more work in it than any other day (for me as well as him).  When you can't "rest" on the Sabbath, you take a good look at how else you can honor it.

Last week I said the Sabbath command is a simple one--don't work.  But if you can't keep the command exactly, how do you keep Sabbath?  Is the Sabbath more than the command?

I think it has to be. And you don't find the explanation in Exodus.  The Sabbath command makes no mention of family time, or nature, or even of worship. Defining the Sabbath based on the 10 commandments is like trying to define Christmas from your employer's list of paid holidays.  Both will tell you not to come to work on that day,* but they don't tell you what to do with it.**

A few months back I tried to come up with a definition of Sabbath.  I was trying to figure out, if we weren't resting much, what exactly we were doing to have legitimate Sabbath time.

Sabbath, I purport, is a complicated thing.  Both the command and the word itself mean to stop, to cease, to pause.  And yet we insist on believing Sabbath is for doing something.  We have the urge to fill it with family meals and mountain hikes, we pump it full of church activities.  What are we doing, when we're Sabbathing?

This is what I think Sabbath is.  You'll have to forgive the fact that this isn't a theology, based on Scripture, of what it should be.  I have only tried, by observation, to describe what it is:

1. The Sabbath is a command, and we obey it.

That was the easy one--the evangelists told us as much. The command is very simple--don't work.  This one day of the week, your household must cease producing.  It's an act of trust in God's care, and a chance to reset our identity to something besides the value of what we can accomplish.  But it doesn't fill the Sabbath with meaning.  Instead, it empties it--it makes a great big void, a blank canvass, a teeming ocean of potential. The command clears a space in which to Sabbath.

2. The Sabbath is a tradition, and we honor it.

If you and I were Jewish, we would have no problem with this one.  When we do the same thing every week--every Friday sundown, or Sabbath afternoon, we create a sense of belonging.  When we eat the same food or listen to the same music, speak the same words, or gather with the same people, the sheer volume of the collective memory impacts our souls.  It can become the walls and floor of a familiar room in our hearts. Spontaneity is beautiful, but habit is the fastest route to worship.

3. The Sabbath is a holiday, and we celebrate it.

This is where we get the idea that Sabbath should be full of hikes to waterfalls, and picnics with family and friends.  We should wear the best clothes and eat the best food, and be happy together. If Sabbath was invented to remember creation, than it's a celebration of life and existence itself.  We ought to do the things that make us good human beings--feed our souls, and feed our relationships.  We remember we are created, and we celebrate the fact that we need not make ourselves.

4. The Sabbath is an opportunity, and we protect it.

The Sabbath List, objectionable though it is, comes from somewhere.  It was meant as a way to protect the priceless potential of the Sabbath from being eaten up with mundane things.  Why don't we do our shopping on Sabbath, or organize our sock drawers? It's not because we think those things are bad, and they'll pollute the holiness of the day.*** It's because we have a chance to do good instead.  We worship, and we serve one another.  It's a place for all the good things that get crowded out of the other days by the need to produce.

This is the reason we clear our schedules, and keep charts of sunset times, and do extra dusting on Friday (meaning over and above the regular dusting all of us do daily).  And this is the reason we walk the tightrope over the chasm of legalism, and often lose our balance and fall in.  And hopefully climb back out again.

This is Sabbathing.  This is what we do.

Somewhere on the other side of this move we're going to walk into church and not be the pastor's family. We're going to learn how to do Sabbath in a different way.  I don't know how it's going to feel, and I'm probably going to look at all of you to figure out how to do it.

But whatever it looks like, we'll still be doing these things, like we always have.  Trying to keep them in balance with each other.  Trying to find meaning from each. Trying to find God in the gift.

Today, I wish you a happy Sabbath.

*unless you are unlucky enough not to have Christmas off

**And it won't help to go to the Bible for what a holy day (holiday) means. In Leviticus, God gives the people a list of holidays, and explains them by saying, "it is a sabbath of rest for you." (Leviticus 23) It seems the Sabbath is the foundation of the holidays, and not an example of them.

***Okay, I admit some actually do think mundane things will sully the holiness of Sabbath, and are therefore somehow bad on one day of the week, even though they're good on the other days. I just think there's another point.



  1. Sabbath as a requirement, the basis of "Seventh-day" Adventism, is properly and thankfully nullified, verified by the exhaustive reinterpretations going on in Adventism. Each is an attempt to re-legitimize it. I once was a Seventh-day Adventist minister and when I decided to leave, I exhaled a mighty breath of relief, that me and my family wasn't affected by its strange, internal, imposition any more.

    Billions of people in the world get along fine without the feeble proposition of enforced family time. Sabbath is an unnecessary, self-imposed, neurotic guilt generator. Religious discernment between work and play is an impossible proposition, as demonstrated by your article. It's a false, mental, requirement. So enjoy life, work and play, nothing is lost, your lives will be better for it. And your roles as oddballs will be diminished.

  2. The example of manna is good to think about. Life these days is just to easy, we don't work each day for our very existence.

  3. I like one. I am thankful for this command/holiday. I look forward to the rest, worship, praise, fellowship, study, music and nature.. All things I don't get much time for during the rest of the week. I am a greeter and also head deaconess so also work on Sabbath. I miss not being able to attend Sabbath School or all the worship hour at times; however, God has called us all to serve. There is a joy in service also. Thank you for these insights.

  4. this was such a good read. it is nice to see you concerned about all that goes and and giving it a though unlike all the others. keep posting more