Remembering Sabbath

Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks (c. 1834)

Remembering Sabbath
Pentecost +2
Rev. Doug Floyd
June 3, 2018
Deuteronomy 5:6-21, Psalm 81, 1 Corinthians 4:1-12, Mark 2:23-28

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” As Jesus replies to the Pharisees question about the disciples plucking grain on the Sabbath, he reminds them that Sabbath is a gift not a burden. “God made it for Adam in Paradise, and renewed it to Israel on Mount Sinai, writes JC Ryle. He continues, “It was made for all mankind, not for the Jew only, but for the whole family of Adam. It was made for man’s benefit and happiness. It was for the good of his body, the good of his mind, and the good of his soul. It was given to him as a boon and a blessing, and not as a burden. This was the original institution.”[i]

Sabbath is gift. As Bishop Ryle reminds us, it is given for humanity’s happiness, it is a boon and blessing and not a burden. Today we pause over this gift to the world, this gift to the people of God and we practice remembering Sabbath.

There are so many Old Testament passages that offer commentary on this one command, that we don’t have time to consider all the implications today. I thought we might pause over Sabbath for the next three weeks and consider a few aspects of this command. Today I’ll reflect on Remembering Sabbath. Next week, we’ll explore Sabbath in Exile. And finally, we’ll consider the Jewish greeting,“Shabbot Shalom” or Sabbath Peace.

We begin with the specific act of remembering, which involves both our imaginations and our bodies. It is a re-hearsing of the command. When Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” it is possible that he is referring to the first account of Sabbath in the creation story. Later, when the Hebrews slaves are rescued from Egypt and hearing the word of God from Mt. Sinai, they are told to remember the Sabbath because it is connected to the creation of the world. The Lord says,

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, 10 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. 11 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).

According to Joseph Ratzinger, the pattern of building the Tabernacle follows the pattern of the creation story. He writes, “Seven times it says, “Moses did as the Lord had commanded him”, words that suggest that the seven-day work on the tabernacle replicates the seven-day work on creation. The account of the construction of the tabernacle ends with a kind of vision of the Sabbath. “So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex 40:33f.). The completion of the tent anticipates the completion of creation. God makes his dwelling in the world. Heaven and earth are united.”[ii]

In the first account of Sabbath, we are given a picture of the creation of the world, climaxing in a When Moses recounts the Sabbath command in Deuteronomy, he tells them to remember the Exodus.

12 “ ‘Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 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 or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Dt 5:12–15).

The Sabbath command carries the memory of God’s good creation and God’s faithful redemption. In both stories, we behold the love of God poured out upon the people he created to know him and share in His life. Throughout the story of Israel, they carry both memories together and both memories are intertwined. For the creation story of Genesis is being remembered from Mt. Sinai even as they have been redeemed from the hand of Pharaoh. Creation and Redemption are bound together in a memory of God’s faithful love. The people remember these stories by retelling the stories, eating certain foods, singing certain songs, and even through pilgrimages. The weekly Sabbath remembrance is extended into a series of specific remembrances throughout the year.

While we see Sabbath references in the Gospels, the epistles do not focus on Sabbath observation. This could be because it was so much a part of the culture that it what not necessary to mention or because it played a different role in the communities. In his letter to the Romans, Paul is addressing a mixed community of Jews and Gentiles, and he makes several statements about respecting one another and how our faith takes expression in eating and worshipping. At one point, he writes,

One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Ro 14:5–6).

It would appear there is room for various expressions. The early Jewish Christian communities seemed to have continued Sabbath observance and worship on the Lord’s Day. The early Gentile communities appear to have primarily practiced worship on the Lord’s Day. Yet, the Church Fathers took the Old Testament seriously and understood the 10 Words or 10 Commandments as normative behavior, so they had to think about how to incorporate Sabbath participation in worship.

In the early centuries of the church, it was not normally possible for Christians to take off on the Lord’s Day, but by the fourth century, Christianity was legalized and the church began to apply Sabbath guidelines to Lord’s Day or Sunday. Across the centuries, observance has changed at times based on church leadership and cultural situations. Today we are back in a situation when many people do not have the option and taking Sunday off. So what does Sabbath observance look like for us?

Jesus’ statement, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” may help us find a wisdom way of practicing Sabbath. As JC Ryle reminds us, this day is a gift not a burden. In our non-stop culture, a day set aside for rest could be a gift for all of us, but not everyone can set aside the same day. Some people are so busy during the week that a day off is often a day to catch up on chores, and yet, Sabbath rest is a much needed gift for all of us.

It might help us to think about the basic form of Sabbath remembrance:

  1. It is an active form of remembering that involves imagination and physical participation. In a culture where we are taught to multi-task, it is a pause, a call to cease and focus on one thing.
  2. It is a form of remembering that involves the family and the community (even the animals and the land). This communal remembering takes places in a weekly observance but also in feast days throughout the year.
  3. It is a celebration of end of a work. At the end of the creation week, God’s sets aside a day of rest and rejoicing.
  4. It is a rejoicing in redemption for God does not leave his people enslaved in sin.

There is more to discuss but these four might help us to think about observing Sabbath.

First we think about pausing or ceasing. Each of us may seek to consider ways that we can pause, rest, and remember. If possible, we should seek to set aside a day a week. If not, we might set aside regular times of rest. Periods of pause during the day or night. Occasional retreats. Time set aside for physical rest, to give thanks to God for His goodness and to practice the art of remembering God’s good creation and God’s faithful redemption.

The center of this remembering is our weekly gathering in worship through Word and Sacrament. Joseph Ratzinger suggests that Sabbath is ultimately about remembering the covenant of God with His people. Sunday worship is in one sense a covenant renewal service where we actively remember God’s promises and blessings as well as God’s call to us. We actively remember Christ by eating His body and drinking His blood in the Eucharistic meal. We also hear afresh His call to go forth with His word of grace to the world.

We might think of ways we can practice regular times of Sabbath remembering within our families. Think simply of our prayer of thanks over meals. This is so common that is can be rushed through, but it could be a time for remembering. The Puritans prayed before and after the meal. The evening meal can be a time for remembering and retelling the joys of the day and the sorrows of the day, we remember together.

Celebrating beginnings and endings are forms of Sabbath remembrance. From birthdays to anniversaries to graduation days, these are times to pause, remember, retell the stories of a person or couple, and give thanks to God for His grace in the midst. The preacher Jack Taylor once told the story of throwing a party after his son declared bankruptcy. This was a way of offering the grief back to God and actively remember God’s redeeming action.

Sabbath remembering can be an active reflection on the people and places around us, beholding God’s goodness and mystery in the midst. This might be as simple as learning to tell people what a treasure they have been to us. Sometimes writing a card, a poem, or a short remembrance about a person can be a gift of this remembering.

This could be as simple as beholding the people we meet our in public and remembering they are created in God’s image and in spite of any flaws we may observe, God loves them and is reaching out with redeeming grace. This might also include keeping a journal of thanks where we regularly write down the gifts that God has given us in breath, bodies, homes, food, and more. It might include telling our stories to others of God’s grace in our brokenness while also listening to the stories of others. There have been times when listening to the birds sing and watching the sunlight play across my lawn have been ways that I remembered God’s love, God’s creation, and God’s promise of redemption. Poets have often been instrumental in helping me to remember God’s goodness in the world around me. Listen to the details of this visit in Anne Porter’s, “The Tailor’s Shop,”

I went into the tailor’s shop
There was a smell
Of woolly steam
The tailor’s little wife
Was there alone

Ironing
A pair of trousers
And there was in front of me
Astonishing
And unmistakable
That rare element
Alive

In purest silence
In the worn features
Of the tailor’s wife
And in her dark
Sicilian eyes.[iii]

 

During these next couple weeks as we continue to reflect on Sabbath, I might encourage you to consider small ways you can cultivating habits of Sabbath celebration in your life. We might even share our experiences with one another as a form of encouraging each other to cultivate a live ever moving toward the joy of our Lord.

I’ll end with another remembrance from Anne Porter that hints at other aspects of Sabbath we will consider in the weeks ahead.

Music

When I was a child
I once sat sobbing on the floor
Beside my mother’s piano
As she played and sang
For there was in her singing
A shy yet solemn glory
My smallness could not hold

And when I was asked
Why was I crying
I had not words for it
I only shook my head
And went on crying

Why is it that music
At its most beautiful
Opens a wound in us
An ache a desolation
Deep as a homesickness
For some far-off
And half-forgotten country

I’ve never understood
Why this is so

But there’s an ancient legend
From the other side of the world
That gives away the secret
Of this mysterious sorrow

For centuries on centuries
We have been wandering
But we were made for Paradise
As deer for the forest

And when music comes to us
With its heavenly beauty
It brings us desolation
For when we hear it
We half remember
That lost native country

We dimly remember the fields
Their fragrant windswept clover
The birdsongs in the orchards
The wild white violets in the moss
By the transparent streams

And shining at the heart of it
Is the longed-for beauty
Of the One who waits for us
Who will always wait for us
In those radiant meadows
Yet also came to live with us
And wanders where we wander.[iv]

Anne Porter

Endnotes

[i]  J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark (London: William Hunt, 1859), 41.
[ii] Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, trans. John Saward (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 26–27.
[iii] Anne Porter, Living Things: Collected Poems (Hanover: Steerforth Press L.C., 2006), 80.
[iv] ibid, 54-55.

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