I’ve been in the mountains of Clayton, Ga. since Sunday leading a reflection and debriefing retreat for college and graduate school students called Selah Vie. The pastor carefully planned worship and vespers around developing a rhythm of life, including sabbath, community, and meaningful work.
Throughout the week, I was reminded of a sermonette I preached at Park Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta as a part of a 10-part sermon by 10 different people on the 10 Commandments. I chose Sabbath, because I liked naps. I’m sure this won’t be the last time I write about it on here either!
The fourth commandment is found in Exodus chapter 20 verses 8 through 11. It says:
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
This law is repeated multiple times throughout the Bible, and is contained within each book of the Hebrew law. There are many reasons why a law might not be included in all the books of Hebrew law, but we can generally assume that the ancient Israelites found a law to be highly important if they included it in each book. This importance is also demonstrated by the list of people who must follow this particular law. Hear the words again from verse 10:
“On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.”
Most Biblical law begins with a caveat that foreigners are not required to follow the letter of law, but may if they feel so inclined. Foreigners are more commonly included when they are NOT allowed to take part in a law or custom. Here, they are required to rest on the Sabbath.
And if that’s not remarkable enough, please note that even though they can’t read, write, or verbally communicate with humans, animals are held to the same standards as everyone else here. Later sources of this law will actually go further to say that if you don’t abide the Sabbath, you are permitting others to follow suit.
But, what does it mean to rest on the seventh day? How are we to keep this day holy? Unfortunately, there is no clear example of how the Israelites practiced Sabbath. We do know that Jesus broke the Sabbath in order to heal people, but it’s not really clear what he was doing before or after that. He only reminds his critics that “the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” And maybe that’s why there’s no further elaboration… every individual experiences rest differently.
I have found the best example of Sabbath observance from the fields, which harvest crops. In Exodus chapter 23 and Leviticus chapter 25, the Sabbath law is extended to the plants of the field. In these cases, the fields are allowed to produce harvest for six years, but on the seventh, they must rest. During, the seventh year, the land can do nothing more than lie still, soaking up the sun and water, peacefully restoring itself to a fresh state. And the next year, the crops they produce are more abundant and healthy.
This should be the ends we seek as we rest on the Sabbath – that our personal crops would grow more abundant and healthy. In this seeking, we are called to find the sun and water that revitalizes us and allows us to experience the next day fresh and restored.
For me, this looks like playing music after a long nap or taking a nice solitary walk on a beautiful day. For you, it could be playing football or baking brownies. Whatever it is, it is so important that we figure it out and allow ourselves to bask in the glow of one worry free day… one day without a to-do list!
In a world where rest literally is a four-letter word, and we are taught that any amount of pausing will cause us to fall behind, the Sabbath is one of the hardest standards God has set before us. We don’t understand how to obey God on the Sabbath, because we don’t know how to stop and just be in the purest sense of the word.
So, today, listen to the word of God, think about what you do that allows you to breathe… to experience peace. And for one single day, allow yourself to rest in the comfort of that thing, knowing that on the eighth day, you will be better off for it.