I’d like to talk about sabbath for just a minute.
If you belong to a faith tradition that has a specific understanding of sabbath - a specific day, perhaps, with certain rituals or with clear rules about what you can and can’t do - I respect that. If you find meaning in that, please continue on, I don’t mean to challenge it. But I do have a couple of thoughts about what’s at the heart of sabbath.
When I think about the creation story in Genesis, I like to imagine God doing all that creating like an artist working in a bunch of different mediums, from the conception to the hands on work to the final touch ups. That all takes “six days” - whatever a day means to God - and then God takes a day and just admires how awesome it all is. God looks around and wonders how there’s a little bit of God in each and every stone and leaf, river and stream, fish and bird, elephant and platypus. And those human beings, well, God wonders, they’re just the coolest thing ever. Created in my own image, God thinks, full of love and promise.
Things happened after that, of course, but in those first moments was a connectedness, an embracing of the bond which is in all life. A moment of wholeness. The seventh day isn’t a day off, it’s the climax and culmination of all that creating, the celebration of the completeness of creation. God rests in wonder.
Then, when Moses leads the Hebrews out of Egypt, there’s an opportunity to reconnect. The people are learning what it means to be free, to be a community and a people on their way to the “promised land,” so God offers them ten sayings to help them. And in there is the day of rest, pretty high up, too, at number four. I imagine God hoping this is an opportunity for the people to understand they need to make time to reconnect with God, to rest in wonder, just like God.
And there’s this story about Jesus in Luke (there’s a few of these in the gospels), about the leader of the synagogue chastising Jesus for doing work on the sabbath when he heals a woman, bent over by the weight of a broken spirit (Luke 13:10-17). Jesus replies that even on the sabbath, everyone unties their ox and donkey so that they’re free to get water that is essential to life. How could it be less appropriate to free this woman from the bondage of her illness?
For Jesus, this moment of healing isn’t about physical infirmity, it’s about wholeness. It’s about being free from the bonds that keep this woman from the world, from being fully engaged with life.
Our lives can get very much like that, too. We get bound up by the work we do and the desires we have, the need to acquire things, the need to be always busy with work or play. Our spirits can bend and buckle under the weight of the world. Even a “day off” can be so full that we can’t find a real moment of freedom.
That’s what sabbath is. It’s freedom from the work of the world so that we can reconnect with God, wonder at God’s presence in creation, including us, and rest in the wonder. It’s a moment of healing for our spiritual health, contentment and well being. It’s a moment of completeness that refreshes and renews us. A moment in which we break free of the things that bind us and reconnect with love, grace and wholeness.