Deepen Faith and Witness: Sabbath
"So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation." Genesis 2:3
Observing Sabbath is a faith practice. It permeates who we are. Sabbath is a biblical practice, a discipline. It is a given in scripture, from day 1 (OK, day 7). In Genesis 1, we read about God's creation of everything, day by day. And we read about God resting. Sabbath is already a practice in the wilderness, even before God gave the 10 commandments including: "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." (Exodus 20:8) God gives the manna and instructs people to gather only enough for the day, except for the sixth day. "See! The Lord has given you the Sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are and do not leave your place on the seventh day."
The Ten Commandments did not create the Sabbath. They simply regularized it and made it applicable to the whole community, not just the believers. Everyone got a rest. Martin Luther, in his Large Catechism describes it this way: "You are to hallow the day of rest." He writes:
"We observe them (holy days), first, because our bodies need them. Nature teaches and demands that the common people-menservants and maidservants who have gone about their work or trade all week long-should also retire for a day to rest and be refreshed. Second and most important, we observe them so that people will have time and opportunity on such days of rest, which otherwise would not be available, to attend worship services, that is, so that they may assembly to hear and discuss God's Word and then to offer praise, song and prayer to God." (Kolb and Wengert, p. 297)
Luther reminds us of the 2 functions of Sabbath-rest time and holy time. Because of the influence of Calvinism in the United States, some people have associated Sabbath more with the "thou shalt nots" than the "thou shalts." Growing up in Pennsylvania, I remember "blue laws." Stores were not open on Sundays, nor were movie theaters. And I can remember reading Laura Ingalls Wilder books in which Sundays were days in which you were supposed to have no fun at all.
I think it is fair to say that our society as a whole no longer sees the Sabbath as a time to forbid fun. But I also think it is fair to say that by and large our society ignores the Sabbath as a time for rest and as a time for the holy.
Brita Stendahl, in her book: Sabbatical Reflections: The Ten Commandments in a New Day, describes how a sabbatical influenced her understanding of Sabbath:
"For us the greatest and loveliest result of the sabbatical year was that it gave us our lives back. In small measure that is what the Sunday service is supposed to do every week. It gives us back the week for judgment and forgiveness. The purpose of worship is not to hear a sermon, to sing a hymn or two. It is something much larger: to come in contact with the world as it is and as we want it to be. Both, and at the same time. That's why it looks so silly to an outsider and observer who objects to the seemingly easy transition, not knowing that it is not easy at all. It is an ongoing process, Sunday after Sunday. It is not habit; it is discipline and discipleship. In one short hour to moan and to mourn and then to forget oneself and join with joy the others in a mock-up banquet reminding us of bread-hunger, wine-blood, life-death, and resurrection-the hope that defies despair. You don't do that in an hour-the hour becomes only a manifestation of what it takes a lifetime to realize."
Sabbath is a precious gift in our overprogrammed and over secularized society. Remember.
Jessica Crist, Bishop
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Bishop Jessica Crist
Bishop of the Montana Synod of the ELCA