Sabbath – its probably one of the most essential, least understood and poorly celebrated of any day on the Christian calendar. For some of us, it’s a set of legalistic rules. For others, it’s the only day of the week to do almost anything we want. For most of us it’s a chance to catch up on sleep and get ready for the week ahead.
I often feel that we miss the true essence of Sabbath and therefore don’t realize how essential it is to our lives and ability to do the job God has called us to. Sabbath should be what theologian Paul Stevens calls “a delicious relaxation in God.” It’s a day on which we glimpse the joy, tranquility, peace and abundance of life in eternity and bask in the love and affirmation of the One who calls us sons and daughters.
Sabbath is meant to realign our whole life around the purposes of God. It reaffirms our relationship to God, to the rest of humankind and even to God’s creation. The rest of the week is meant to focus on activities that enable us to look forward to the Sabbath. This is not just in some perfunctory “Oh, I wish it were Sunday” fashion. The whole of the week is meant to focus on making the joy, the peace and the abundant provision of the Sabbath possible not only for us but all of God’s creatures.
The Jewish philosopher Abraham Heschel called the Sabbath day a miracle. In his book The Sabbath, Heschel explains that Jewish philosophers puzzled for centuries over Genesis 2:2, “On the seventh day God finished his work.” This statement seemed to imply that God created something on the seventh day. They decided that what God created on the seventh day was Sabbath, a day of peace and tranquility when God and all of God’s creation rested in the enjoyment of life as God intended it to be. For Heschel, “The essence of the world to come is Sabbath eternal.” Sabbath is unique amongst life’s rhythms in that no such day existed until it appeared full-blown in the Hebrew Bible, and it has no counterpart in the natural world.
I started celebrating Sabbath several years ago. It has revolutionized my life.
My husband and I go out for breakfast and spend time journaling then share our thoughts and reflections on the past week and our hopes for the future week. In the last few years, this is such a good time for me as I have focused my journaling around three questions based on the prayer of examen.
1. What am I grateful for this week?
2. What have I struggled with?
3. Where have I caught glimpses of the kingdom and what bears the fingerprints of God?
I am amazed at how this simple exercise has given me a greater sense of God’s love and affirmation of who I am. Sometimes I feel I sit with the welcoming hand of God on me and hear the loving God say: “well done good and faithful servant.”
It has given me an inspiring new way to enter the week. I begin with a sense of God’s affirmation and a zeal to realign all I do to God’s purposes. At the same time, it takes the burden off me to change the world and places it back on God. I feel now that I enter each week focused on how I can bring glimpses of God’s Sabbath world into the lives of others. No wonder Jesus healed on the Sabbath and criticized the legalisms and restrictive rules the Pharisees inflicted on the people that robbed them of their joy and freedom. He wasn’t downplaying the importance of Sabbath as a holy day but was bringing the Jews back to God’s perspective. In the process, he gave them breathtaking glimpses of the eternal world in which all will one day be made whole.
In a 24/7 world with no space for rest, we buy our freedom from work and busyness with some hard choices. How could you more authentically practice a Sabbath day? Start with some small steps. Perhaps you would like to start as one friend of ours did. Recently he instituted a “technology Sabbath”. One day a week he disconnects from the phone, email and the computer. It has done much to decrease the stress in his hectic life and has made it easier for him to enter into the joy of God’s presence.
What choices should you make that at least for part of Sunday (or whichever day in the week is most suitable for you) enable you to face in a different direction – towards God and the peace and tranquility of God’s eternal world?
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