The other day I was in a conversation about Sabbath, the commandment of God that one day each week should be set aside to be free from work. We live in a pluralistic world, so the conversation went, and we cannot really expect people to set a whole day aside for rest. Sabbath, the conversation continued, is really about attitudes. In fact there’s no prescription about what constitutes sabbath rest-whatever feels restful is good enough.
We roundly agreed that today’s sabbath happens wherever we are, whenever we want and that it would be unfair for Christians to expect non-believers to adhere to sabbath practices.
The sabbath as set forth in scripture and widely interpreted by Jewish and Christian tradition is a unique expression of God’s grace in space and time. The Christian’s obedience to it is a testimony and sign which depends not on their performance or feeling, but on the the total lack of it. In fact one cannot aim to practice the sabbath and fail. I suppose rest isn’t particularly something which exists under the category of achievement, since then it ceases to be rest.
The practice of sabbath exists then as a simple discipline which is a sign to the watching world that there is a people on this earth who fear God and obey his commandment. It is also a challenge to the Christian reminding them that their faith intrudes upon not only their imagination and intellect, but that God claims their minutes and hours. The wonder of this divine command is that it is a gift and joy to obey.
I sympathise with the struggle it can be to live by the inconvenient commandments. We are an intellectual people, loving to live by neat ideas. We are a passionate people, following the thrills of love and fellowship to perform wonderful works in the world. Yet we are also beings of flesh, existing in space and time. Sabbath is how we who have been baptised remind ourselves and the world that there is far more to the life we have promised to live, than what we feel or think inside.
Sabbath, like tithing, attending public prayers, and partaking of Holy Communion is how the promises of our faith enter the third dimension. Sabbath is the declaration that our time is always time in obedience to God. And this is a wonderful gift, which we need do nothing to receive.
Perhaps if we learn to do, in time and space, these most simple of acts of obedience, who can tell what other kinds of brave acts of obedience those of younger eyes might be inspired toward? Perhaps its generations of quiet obedience which raises up those saints who they tell the stories about.
A Collect for Saturdays
Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.