Reflection 6/1: Sacred Sabbath
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
We children memorized the Ten Commandments in grade school. This was not optional; instead, it was a rote repetition of the archaic formula, “Thou shalt not …” The commandment to memorize the Ten Commandments was like the 11th commandment. It took decades for me to notice that there was something different about two of the ten: That is, eight of them are rendered in the negative, but two are positive. “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath.” “Honor thy father and thy mother.” In some respects, that affirmation makes keeping these commandments perhaps the hardest. Leaving aside the “honor” commandment for this moment, I want to invite us to think about keeping holy the Sabbath.
In our modern context, we Christians have mostly lost the awe and inspiration of Sabbath keeping. Sundays are now used for catching up on chores, running to buy groceries and other shopping, and getting everyone ready to begin the week again on Monday.
Sabbath keeping has always been a point of contention, something we know from the gospels. Beyond the Ten Commandments, Jewish law further developed 39 additional rules on how to keep ancient Sabbath, including parsing various words: keeping, holy, and work. Long before Jesus, Sabbath law was used not only for honoring God, each other, and ourselves by setting aside one day of the week for rest, spiritual contemplation and prayer, worship, companionship, and rest. Rather, the Sabbath and the law became a bludgeon for castigating and judgment.
We absolutely need Sabbath in our lives. God understood this so well that God himself took a day of rest after the labors of creation. God didn’t ask us to do something he hadn’t done first. God gave the Sabbath a trial run, deemed that it was good like the rest of God’s creation, and ordered humanity to do likewise. We didn’t have the power to create the earth, water, and sky, and populate them with all manner of living things. But we—just like God—could set aside time for a regular Sabbath.
I am ever more convinced that reclaiming—and keeping sacred—Sabbath would go a long distance in curing what ails ourselves and our fractured world.