Throughout the Summer, we are spending time relearning the 10 Commandments, which have long made up the foundational law upon which our faith in God and Christ is built. There are many who have claimed that the 10 Commandments, like the other 600+ laws of the Old Testament, are no longer applicable. The theory goes, that since Christ’s arrival (since Christ came to establish a New Covenant with God’s people) the old laws have been rewritten and should be seen as having little importance in faithful living today.
I would argue quite the opposite. Certainly there are some laws of the Old Testament that were put into place because of health concerns at the time, such as the prohibition against eating shell fish. These such laws seem to be less applicable today as our knowledge of how to care for ourselves has significantly improved. However, the foundational laws of our faith, those laws that God established to help maintain right relationship between us – the created – and our Creator, and the laws God established to help maintain right relationship among us in community should all be seen as vitally important to follow and adhere today.
In the New Testament, Jesus is asked by the Jewish leaders who were seeking to trap him into speaking heretically against the Torah, “Which commandment is the greatest?” Jesus’ response is well known. He says, “The greatest commandment is this, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, and all your strength.’ And the second is like it, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
If you look at the 10 Commandments, you find that Jesus’ response is a perfect summary of the 10. The first three, which we have covered over the past three weeks, very clearly describe what it means to love God. It means acknowledging God’s sole place as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer – having no other gods before the Lord God. Make no images of God – seek not to create for yourself an image of God on earth, but worship God in heaven. And do not wrongfully use God’s name – having acknowledged God as your life source, be sure to speak and represent God faithfully.
Commands 5 through 10 speak about what it means to love thy neighbor. Honor, respect the life of, respect the property of … we will cover these all in the weeks to come.
In between the first three and the final six is this command to “remember the Sabbath.” This command is a transitional command, perhaps reflecting both what it means to love God and to love your neighbor.
As with each of the commandments, we will look to understand the historical context in which the commandment was first offered. Having gleaned a more contextual idea around it’s original implications, we will then seek to understand how it should be understood to affect our lives as faithful disciples today.
In the offering of the fourth commandment, we find the command to remember the Sabbath is given some historical context even as it is instituted in the Decalogue. Verse 11 reminds us, “For in six days the Lord made the heaven and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.” We are called on to remember the creation story – how God put into place the whole of creation.
Remember? On the seventh day, God looked at the work that had been completed and saw that it was good. The Sabbath day was first instituted by God not in the 10 Commandments, but in the Creation story. The fourth commandment, as offered in Exodus, calls on us to remember to Sabbath. We are called on to remember how God used the Sabbath in the beginning; we are called to recollect the role the Sabbath played for God.
Remembering the role of the Sabbath in the creation story puts the purpose of Sabbath in a significantly different context that how we often use the Sabbath today. The Sabbath day was not a day to rest up to get ready for the work to come; the Sabbath was a day to rest while looking back at the work that had been completed. Too often in our world today, we take off time to rest up and replenish our strength so that we might have the energy to get through the coming week. But that is not the role of Sabbath days. The Sabbath is about reflecting on the good work God has done over the past week. Sabbath is not about being rejuvenated to go out and work again. “Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of [our] work.”[i] The Sabbath is not for sake of our workdays; indeed it is the other way around. Our weekdays are for the sake of our Sabbath.
Remembering the role of the Sabbath in the creation story, a story we are directly reminded of in the fourth commandment, places the role of the Sabbath not in the interlude of the work, but at the climax of the work.
Learning to understand the Sabbath properly as the concluding day of our work week – as it was for God in the creation story – allows us to better understand the purpose of the Sabbath and to reclaim the use of the Sabbath as commanded in the fourth commandment.
Offered to the Israelites as they were wandering in the wilderness, you can imagine the importance of the role the Sabbath rest would have played. For forty years the Israelites wandered in the wilderness as they were fleeing the oppression they had experienced as slaves in Egypt, all the while longing for and hoping to reach the promised land, which would provide new life and new freedom as God’s chosen.
God calls on the Israelites to remember the Sabbath in the midst of a time of great uncertainty. By taking pause at the end of each week to look back – not forward – the Israelites could properly give thanks for the work of God that had allowed them to survive even one more week. By properly treating the Sabbath as a day to reflect back on God’s good work, the Israelites were better able to identify God’s continued redemptive work that was leading them from captivity in Egypt toward a new life.
Like the Israelites, there are certainly times when we find ourselves struggling to make it even one more day without some form of emotional breakdown. There are days and times when we feel so overwhelmed with work, with travel, with projects, or with deadlines that we find ourselves seeking rest just so we can wake up and have the energy to do it all again tomorrow. The Israelites, no doubt, felt the same pain as they wandered in the middle of nowhere, yearning for any place to call home. Each day brought new challenges; each week a new struggle; each month new hardships; and each year brought the passing of loved ones and leaders in the community.
They say hindsight is 20/20 – that anytime we look back, we are often able to better see things than when we are in the midst of the proceedings. True Sabbath rest is about putting to use the gift of hindsight to see how God was in the midst of our struggles. True Sabbath rest is about looking back at the work that has been completed, about the trials we have overcome, about the goodness of God that was present even in the midst of our hardship.
The Israelites were called to look back and remember the manna and the honey provided when they had no food. The Israelites were commanded to remember the Sabbath, that they might look back and recall how God how caused a spring to come up from the ground when they were all but defeated by dehydration. The Israelites were told to remember the Sabbath, because it would allow to look back and see how God had rescued them from the Egyptians – how the sea had been parted, and how God had made a way when life seemed to have no way forward.
The Sabbath is time for us to recall the active, loving and resourceful God who has led us – who has never abandoned us – who has created us as gifted, sustained, and blessed persons.
As a day to remember the work of God, the commandment tells us, “Remember the Sabbath, and keep it holy.” Some versions of this text say, “Remember the Sabbath, and sanctify it.”
Adhering to the commandment is not just about recollecting what God has done in the past. Thinking back about God’s good work is necessary in and of itself, but the command to remember does not stand alone. The passive command to remember is coupled with an active command to keep the Sabbath holy – to sanctify the day, to sanctify our acts of remembrance.
Sabbath is not just about taking time to rest and look back, it’s about taking time to demonstrate for the world what it means to be set apart.[ii] Keeping the Sabbath holy means taking time to reflect God’s love. It’s about taking time to be obedient to the one who has given us these foundational commandments that guide our faith – that guide our lives. Sabbath is about a visible enactment and witness that claims we do not live by the defining characteristics of the society and world around us – characteristics that declare we must work more, build greater, and establish ourselves – but instead about offering a public witness to our humility and gratefulness for God’s gift of life and love.
Sanctifying the Sabbath means looking back on the first three commands, and gathering as community to claim we believe in the One God. To sanctify this day each week, we break the bread and share the cup as a reminder of God’s good work – God’s redemptive work – that offers new life – not just once, but truly, that offers new life each day.
Claiming Sabbath rest, coming to worship and make the Sabbath holy, it is one of the most radical, countercultural, peculiarly defining acts of what it means to be faithful. We refuse to work; we separate ourselves from the deadlines of the world, that the world might see in our act of worship and Sabbath taking a glimpse of true order.[iii]
Worship the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Jesus tells us the greatest command is simply adhering to the first three commands, coupled with the command to keep the Sabbath holy.
The second is like it, love your neighbor.
Verse 10 again says, “You shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slaves, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns.” The command to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy is not just about you. It’s not just about your relationship with God. The command is about the fullness of community.
The command claims that you must rest, because everyone needs rest. Your taking rest ensures that others who may not be able to secure rest for themselves get the rest they need. Keeping the Sabbath is about joining in God’s redemptive work in the world.[iv] It is not good enough to ensure you have Sabbath time if you are abusing the lives and work of others. How is that reflective of the work of God in the world? The Sabbath is about setting right your relationship with God, and ensuring that as a full community – that together as community – we are in all right relationship with each other.
Love God, and Love thy neighbor. The Sabbath helps to ensure both relationships are in right order.
Let me conclude with this thought:
There was a book made into a movie in the early 2000s called “Fast Food Nation.” It defined some of the more detrimental practices of the fast-food industry upon the health of our nation. But perhaps, even while naming significant issues in the fast-food industry, it missed the most significant connection that has been a detriment to our world.
The fast-food industry is in and of itself is not the problem. The problem lies in the reality that our society does not find time to sit, to listen, and to reflect. The problem is that our society does not take time to be fed. We speed through take-out windows so we can get from point A to point B that much faster. We cram junk food down our throats for breakfast, lunch and dinner so that we have more time to spend typing on the computer or calling clients on the phone.
I’ve heard it said that people face the most anxiety of the week on Saturdays and Sundays, because they are already beginning to think of what jobs await their return to the office on Monday.
Perhaps we need to reframe our understanding of Sabbath rest. The Sabbath is not about doing nothing. “Perfect rest is an art.” We should be putting as much effort into the Sabbath as we do every other day, for truly, Sabbath is about actively seeking to withdraw from our labor into a created space of tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose.[v] Your work will never justify your life, only God can do that. Your plans, goals, ambitions, and accomplishments will never provide for you the glory you seek, only God can do that.
So rest; actively rest. Rest in the glory of God. Rest in the hindsight that God has brought you this far. Because only God can do that. Remember the Sabbath?
It’s not a suggestion, it’s a command. Remember. Amen.