When you hear the word Sabbath, or in the Hebrew the word Shabbat, what comes to mind?
What should come to mind, of course, is the call to take a day of restorative rest, because we are invited to do as God did and to rest on the seventh day from our labors.
But so often what comes to mind instead is rules.
Rules we are supposed to follow in order to be holy as God is holy. Rules that we often think of as holding us back and holding us down.
Rules of course have their place and time. But as part of the New Covenant community that is the church, we have discovered the amazing power of grace!
And in that grace, we have found the wonder of seeing things like Sabbath as instead of a rule, as a delightful gift given to a weary people as it was to those Israelites who left the slavery of Egypt.
Truly amazing grace.
Imagine being ordered to rest once every seven days instead of working every day as a slave. Yes, Sabbath is commanded, but isn’t it a wonderful command. Rest, relax, and oh yeah, give thanks to the God who gave you rest!
Good news to all folks weighed down by a world view that thinks that only by working constantly, only by keeping up with the Jones, only by following the rules - of making more - can we succeed!
Instead we are invited, yeah even commanded to stop! Rest! And give thanks!
Did you know that Shabbat in the Hebrew language actually means “cease”.
Stop working, stop striving, stop trying to get ahead, and rest in the God who has provided all you need. What does the Lord’s prayer say. “… give us this day our daily bread…”! God can and will provide.
Our striving doesn’t make it happen! God does.
It makes me think of the child who is spinning in a circle as they stress about all the stuff they have to do for school, or an adult for work, to whom the parent says “stop”!
Slow down, relax for a second, sit for a moment and remember you are not defined by your work. You are amazing. You are perfectly made for what you are supposed to be doing.
So, let’s stand back for a second and see what we can do to get what you really need to do organized in such a way that you can succeed and feel really good about what you have done.
Stop with the rules! Let go and let God.
I laugh a bit as I think of this passage, because I cannot help but think of this story in season 2 of The Chosen.
Jesus and the disciples are walking back from a Synagogue where Jesus has healed a man. And Peter without thinking pulls a handful of wheat off the stalks on the side of the pathway and begins to eat.
The other disciples at first are scandalized, but soon, with Jesus’ permission, they are all eating. After all, he is the Lord of the Sabbath.
And they are hungry!
And all is well, until two religious’ leaders - who were already incensed by Jesus’ healing on the Sabbath - now see him giving permission to his hungry disciples to break the fourth commandment, which says, “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy”!
The scene was a reminder that while Jesus’ ministry was growing and changing people’s lives in amazing ways, there was always that undertone of conflict with the religious leaders of Israel, as well as with the Romans.
Jesus claims to be Messiah and he uses religious titles for himself. And so, he is dangerous and soon to be scheduled for elimination.
But for now, we think about what Exodus 20:8 & 9 actually says, "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God.
In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.
“For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore, the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.”
And the common understanding was that while the eating of the grain was fine, harvesting it was not! It was work, and work was forbidden on the Sabbath.
Of course, that begs the question of what work is as opposed to restorative rest, a point Jesus makes when he notes that David and his men ate the sacred bread, and that even the Levites when working in the Temple were allowed to eat.
So how do you understand Sabbath? As a rule, that you must keep and don’t keep very well?
Or as a bit of God’s amazing grace that commands us to take time from our work and instead celebrate the wonders of God’s love, joy, peace, presence, and yes, even rest!
Celebrate Sabbath, because as always, God knows what is good for us!