This is the second in a three-part series on the Sabbath. Read the first post here.
As I said in my post from June 4, when I began this series on Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath, the seventh day is set apart for rest:
“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep 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, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Ex. 20:8-11)
Rest isn’t merely abstention from labor. It’s not not doing something. Rest is something we participate in, something we enjoy—something we do.
This is a huge point, and it’s something I want all of us to sit with for a while. Have you ever been out in the yard on a Saturday morning, cutting the grass or weeding the flowerbeds, and then experienced that glorious half hour afterwards when you sit down with your water and look at what you’ve accomplished? You feel the sweat rolling down your face, the ache in your feet and forearms, the cold condensation rolling down the glass of water and the heat of the sun on your neck. You are finally able to rest, and to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
When God invites us—and, yes, commands us—to rest, he is providing us with the opportunity to enjoy his good gifts and to return thanks for them.
Rabbi Heschel draws a sharp distinction between rest and diversion in his book. In the eyes of the Bible, the Sabbath is not a day to shoot off fireworks; it is not a day of diversion and over-the-top celebrations. It is a day of tranquility, peace, and repose—three things we are sorely missing in 2018’s America.
Think about it: What do we usually do on holidays? We go to the grocery store with our mile-long lists and fight off the crowds to get our honey-baked hams, cranberry sauce, and Sister Schubert rolls. We vacuum the floors, dust the end tables for the first time in who-knows-how-long, and move the clutter out of our guest bedrooms so that we can be ready for that most wonderful and dreadful of times when we host family members for the weekend. We break out the board games, Wheat Thins, and pinot grigio and stay up far past the sun chattering and clinking glasses and getting mad when we lose at Canasta.
And when it’s all over, we’re more tired than ever.
This is not a Sabbath. It’s definitely not a bad thing to celebrate important days with family and friends. But I think we can all agree on this: it’s anything but restful.
The Sabbath calls us to true rest. The Sabbath implores us to find comfort, pleasure, and delight in the Lord and in his good gifts. The Sabbath forces us to recognize that we aren’t capable of providing everything for ourselves. We can’t go go go all the time, and we can’t pretend that we’re machines. We need more than an oil change and a tune-up. We need a rest!
Ultimately, Heschel tells us, the Sabbath reveals to us that to have more is not to be more. Stockpiling money and goods for their own sake is a waste of time and, if we’re honest, sinful. Working through the weekend to prove our value to the company will eventually catch up with us. Pretending we’re stronger than we are will catch up with us. We can run ourselves ragged to get the overtime pay or the nod of approval from the boss, but in the end we won’t be happier.
The Sabbath offers us a reprieve from the toil we were cursed with in Genesis 3. The ground is thorny, and more often than not we don’t want to admit it. But on the day of rest, we can sit around the dinner table and enjoy the creation again. We can enjoy the folks God has placed in our lives and under our care, and we can look forward to the day when all days will be a Sabbath.
This leads me to the last post in this three-part series. Why do Christians not celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday anymore? What, for Christians, is the Sabbath day pointing to or representing? Next week, we’ll talk about it. I’ll see you there.