Editor’s Note: This is part 2 of a 9 part series on pastoral leadership that I am writing for my seminary class, Leading Christian Communities, with Dr. Kyle J. A. Small. My reflections in this series are based on the book Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton.
Sabbath. Like so many words, the meaning it carries will vary from person to person. To someone who is a bit older, it may represent the day of the week the whole family goes to church and spends time together while refraining from doing chores or homework. For those a bit younger, it may simply mean the day of the week all shopping centers are closed, or at least not selling alcohol. For those younger yet, it may only be somewhat recognizable as the second half of the name of a popular rock band started by some guy named Ozzy.
I am one of those lads that knew very little about the Sabbath, and sadly, I do not think this is too uncommon nowadays.
Last week we explored the importance of resting in the Lord: to have a rhythm of life in which we care for our souls by having solitude with God. This rhythm is scalable in that we should practice it daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly.
Living the Sabbath is a weekly rhythm of life that we are called to practice as instituted by God in the first account of creation found in the beginning of Genesis.
2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 2 And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3 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 2:1-3 NRSV)
The creation of the heavens and the earth did not end with the creation of man; it ended, and climaxed, with the Sabbath. Notice what it says in verse 2, “and on the seventh day God finished the work he had done.” Humankind may be God’s masterpiece, but the Sabbath is creation’s crown.
Abraham Joshua Heschel writes in his stellar work, The Sabbath, “Three acts of God denoted the seventh day: He rested, He blessed and He hallowed the seventh day (Genesis 2:2-3). To the prohibition of labor is, therefore, added the blessing of delight and the accent of sanctity” (Heschel 2). A common popular interpretation of Sabbath is simply to cease from working. While this is certainly true, there is more to it than that. Like all Hebrew words, Shabbat has a range of meanings, such as, cease, stop, be at a standstill, stop working, take a holiday, or to even cease from living. These are all verbal meanings of the word Shabbat. God blesses the Sabbath. To bless is to transfer power. God gave the day significance, holiness, and sacredness when he gave it his blessing. He created a holy space in time that we are to observe every seven days. God also sanctifies the seventh day. He deemed it Holy and set the seventh day apart from the other six days of the week. Heschel writes:
To observe is to celebrate the creation of the world and to create the seventh day all over again, the majesty of holiness in time, “a day of rest, a day of freedom,” a day which is like “a lord and king of all other days,” a lord and king in the commonwealth of time. (Heschel 7)
To live the Sabbath opens us to participate in the holiness, sacredness, and significance of the day itself, which is ultimately to participate in God!
And yet, how many of us are actually doing this? If the Sabbath is so important, why do most people not even know what it really means? As life speeds up we have forgotten the importance of slowing down. Whether you work in a church, a shoe store, a restaurant, or anywhere else, if you are a grandparent, a student, a child, or somewhere in between, the Sabbath is for you.
Here’s the deal. This is not exactly an easy journey. To live the Sabbath is counter-cultural. But doesn’t that make it all the more attractive? My wife and I have been striving to practice the Sabbath regularly for over a year now. This still does not always come easy, but we have both felt the incredible peace that comes with setting a day apart. We resist the urge to make plans on the Sabbath. We cease from work, homework, and chores. We do things that give us life, such as going for a long, peaceful walk with no destination in mind. We will play games together, read together, and rest. We are working on being more intentional with our time, to spend it more deliberately with our Lord and not just with each other. The day is noticeably different than every other day of the week in every good way. From our rest on Sunday we enter into our work for the coming week with a growing anticipation of the promise of the Sabbath. While our practice of the Sabbath needs a bit more depth, we have already found life through this weekly rhythm.
What sorts of things do you do to live the Sabbath? What have you found life-giving? Challenging? If you currently do not experience this in anyway, you certainly are not alone. This is not a common practice, but it is a worthy one. It is my hope for you to prayerfully consider beginning this all-important way of life and experience the richness of this rhythm of rest. My wife and I can speak to the way it has changed our life for the better. We hope the same for you. For as Abraham Joshua Heschel so beautifully writres, “The Sabbath is the most precious present mankind has received from the treasure house of God” (Heschel 6).
Image Source: http://www.meaning-of-life.info/images/graphics/godrestingw.jpg