5th Sunday in Lent
April 10, 2011
“Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. 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. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.” Gen 2: 1-3.
Leviticus 20: 8-11 “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the LORD your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it
“It is hard to understand why so many people put “Thou shalt not do any work” in a different category from “Thou shalt not kill” or “Thou shalt have no other god before me,” especially since those teachings are all on the same list. The ancient wisdom of the Sabbath commandment – and of the Christian gospel as well – is that there is no saying yes to God without saying no to God’s rivals. No, I will not earn my way today. No, I will not worry about my life, what I will eat or what I will drink, or about my body, what I will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? And there was evening and there was morning, the seventh day.” BBT, An Altar in the World.
We live in a ‘can-do’ culture. Much as we whine about how much we have to do, we seem to derive a certain amount of pride in being able to keep so many things afloat. We admire people who can keep more going than we can, and share their embarrassment when they let something slip. There are more opportunities to say yes in our culture than we could ever have imagined. The Spiritual Practice of Sabbath is the practice of saying no.
Nowadays, on our days of rest we shop, we eat out, causing other people to give up their Sabbath, we watch football or basketball, or go to play them ourselves. We are totally immersed in all that the world has to offer.
Barbara Brown Taylor describes as her reaction as holy envy, to the Friday evening Shabbat meal of her Jewish friends, who start their day of rest and reflection around a dinner table with family and singing and walking off to temple for prayer. The mother lights two candles, which represent the two Sabbath commandments in Torah. First, the commandment of the creation account in which God works hard for six days and then ‘performs the consummate act of divine freedom by doing nothing at all.’ The second candle represents the commandment from Deuteronomy 5; you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD freed your with a might hand and an outstretched arm, therefore God commands you to observe the Sabbath. So resting on the seventh day reminds you of your liberation.
We have talked about Spiritual Practices in the last weeks: we talked about the practice of waking up to God’s presence in the world, to blessing what God blesses, to eating and the Eucharist in a hungry world, to giving as God gives, and now to keeping Sabbath. Could it be that we have gone from the easiest practice to the hardest? Seeing the injustice of who has plenty of food and who does not and being motivated to participate in a more equal distribution of resources is counter-cultural, and can put you at odds with other people. Committing to seeing all your resources as a blessing and giving to God first as evidence that you understand and trust that you will have all you need is harder, leaving you in a position of denying yourself the satisfaction of claiming all you’ve earned and enjoying the fruits of it. But giving up your time is the hardest of all in a world that measures your value by how involved you are in work, learning, volunteering, caring for your family, and playing with friends. What would happen if we cleared a time to breathe, to pray and reflect, to be quiet in God’s presence and see the world. What would happen if we claimed the time to celebrate creation and our liberation from the killing rhythms of compulsion and collapse.
The rabbis say that those who observe Sabbath observe all the other commandments. They become accomplished at saying no and begin to be shaped in God’s image. These practices are not going to save us. There is no question about that. Nor do they give us some kind of extra credit in heaven. God won our salvation for us already, through Jesus’ death and resurrection. These practices train us to enjoy the freedom and deep relationship with God which has already been won for us. It gives us a chance to live out of that new life, training us in patterns that reflect what we are becoming because our salvation is secure. I invite you to consider the practice of rest and liberation from the pressures and hectic activity of the world around you. I invite you to celebrate your forgiveness and liberation from all that keeps you from true joy. I invite you to rest, even if just for an intentional afternoon, in God’s presence.
Now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
This series is inspired by Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. (NY HarperCollins, 2009).