Monday Quote - Abraham Joshua Heschel - The glorification of the day, the insistence upon strict observance, did not, however, lead the rabbis to a deification of the law. ‘The Sabbath is given unto you, not you unto the Sabbath.’ (Mekhilta 31:13) The ancient rabbis knew that excessive piety may endanger the fulfillment of the essence of the law. (Genesis Rabbah, 19:3)
Monday Thought -
Correct observation of the Sabbath was important for my family growing up. Primarily, Sabbath was observed by going to church, twice. But Sabbath was also observed with a series of prohibitions. We don't watch tv, go to the movies, listen to 'secular' music etc. We didn't go shopping on the Sabbath, but that was because no stores were open anyway. Sabbath was presented more as a day of disallowance than anything else. Sabbath was about don't and can't. I don't think this was intentional, but this was the effect. And lets' admit it, its hard to get excited about that. Today, Sabbath is largely a forgotten concept for many Christians, at least in practice. Our children have sports to participate in, we have errands, shopping, yard-work, and laundry to catch up on. Stores are all open. While we may not be at work, we often are still at work. So this week we will re-visit, at least in part, the importance of Sabbath. Today, we review Sabbath as rule and Sabbath as ritual.
When Sabbath, as I recall how it was taught to me, is primarily a list of constraints, it fails to be compelling. This is the main tension in this weeks story. Jesus and disciples engage in a brief episode of harvest labor in order to get something to eat and then later, Jesus heals a disabled man on the Sabbath. It is important to realize that the portrayal of the Pharisees may not be entirely accurate. They certainly knew that breaking Sabbath restrictions to save a life was allowed. So let's not stereotype all historical Pharisees by what we see in this story, because the phenomena of making Sabbath all about correctly following the rules of what we can't do is certainly not confined to Pharisees. For instance, a few years ago a very articulate and passionate missionary from the Seventh Day Adventist Church knocked on my door to, kindly, explain why my observance of the Sabbath on Sunday was simply the wrong day and so displeasing to God. This is exactly the kind of thing Jesus is reacting to. Sabbath is simply a rule, or list of rules, a series of prohibitions to obey in order to avoid the anger of God. This isn't the point of Sabbath, according to Jesus.
Jesus engages in two life-giving activities on Sabbath. He and his disciples feed themselves and then Jesus heals a disabled man. The Sabbath is the day to celebrate the gift of life and so, to share the gift of life. While he and his disciples are not in immediate danger of death due to malnutrition and the disabled man not in impending danger due to the malformation of his hand, in the larger society, hunger and the inability to provide financially for one's family were clear and present dangers to life. When Jesus says aloud, 'The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,' he is claiming that he has the power and authority to create life. It is a statement about his mission. And as a part of his mission he will celebrate and create life for all those who, because of forces out of their control, cannot experience the joy and fullness of life. But he is also reminding us of the point of Sabbath. It is to appreciate and celebrate the gift of life. In Genesis 1 (and in Exodus 20 where the 10 Commandments order observation of a Sabbath), God rests on the seventh day after creating the world. It is a day in which God delights in what God has created. It is a day to savor the good that God has done. In Deuteronomy 5, where the story of the giving of the 10 Commandments is told again, the celebration of Sabbath is rooted in God's liberation of the Hebrews from slavery. God rescues the Hebrews from a life of forced labor and gives them the gift of enjoying a labor-free day, in which to celebrate and enjoy life.
Celebration, savoring, and appreciating the gift of life is the core of Sabbath observance. This is what Sabbath is for and I think you'll agree, it is much sweeter to contemplate what we are for, than to always focus on what we are against. So Sabbath is a day to engage in that which allows you to savor and be thankful for God's gift of life. It is a time to take a break from stress and worry and enjoy life. It is much bigger than obeying a few rules. It is a day to pause and focus on the wonder of being alive, at the wonder of all that is alive around us. While focusing on the rules belittles both Sabbath and ourselves, that does not mean we shouldn't make a ritual of Sabbath. If taking time to pause, celebrate, savor, and enjoy life is not made a priority and a habit, it is very simple for other priorities and responsibilities to interrupt and distract us. And this does mean that if we are going to say yes to the gift of Sabbath we will need to say 'no' to some other things. This is where faith is required. We must trust that if we observe Sabbath, the benefits to our spirit, life, faith and very humanity will outweigh the the sting of saying no to things, even the things that demand our attention.
Monday Study - Isaiah 58
Monday Prayer - Give me the gift, Lord of the Sabbath, of silence from all that demands my attention, all that calls to completed, all that spurs me to action. Give me the gift of rest and in that the gift of knowing that I can trust in you to provide and to protect. Allow me to give myself the grace and mercy to savor and enjoy the life you have given me. Amen