Recently as my health has forced me to rest I have, perhaps unsurprisingly been considering The Sabbath. The Command to rest from our labours one day in seven.
Then as I was reading and studying, out of the blue someone sent me a book about the Sabbath, and then I was listening to a lecture which without my realising focussed on the significance of the Sabbath – so I thought I’d better write a few words about it!! 🙂
One of the odd things I’ve noticed as I’ve been reading is how most if not all contemporary books on the Sabbath take it as read that ‘this is not something which it is possible to do together in the modern world, but we can still find ways to observe some form of Sabbath on our own’. And the more I have thought and pondered and prayed, the more this has disturbed me, for many reasons, but two of particular importance to us as the people of God.
Firstly, the command is put in such a way that ‘doing it together’ is a requirement, and as we read it we see why. ‘You shall not do any work, you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or strangers resident in your town.’ The command is given to those at the top of the pile, those who have power over the lives of others [as indeed the books are 🙂 those who have the money and the leisure for reading . . .]. ‘you are responsible for the rest of others’
The idea that we can do our own private Sabbath as is convenient to us makes the demonic assumption that we are all individuals. Perhaps we wish to shop on our rest day? Someone else has to work so that we can do that. Or drive? Who will be at the fuel stations? All too often our restless rest requires others to be working. It assumes that we are not our brothers keeper – that we have a life of our own . . .
Indeed now as a society we have become ‘secularised’, we have adapted to an economic model which doesn’t allow rest – most especially for those at the bottom of the pile. Recently the Diocese has backed the ‘Living Wage’ Campaign. Well that is a good thing, but a Life without Rest is no life at all. If a person cannot earn a living wage in six days, it is not a living wage. We Sabbath together for the sake of the weak.
Secondly, this command is woven into the very nature of Creation – ‘For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day’. Did you notice that the non human creation is also involved in Sabbath?? ‘your livestock’ In my parish back in England, one local farmer was a Quaker. He never milked his cows on the Sabbath – and they did not suffer for it, indeed one might guess they thrived. They too rested from their labours.
Failure to observe a Sabbath for the Land and the Livestock now faces us with what look like catastrophic consequences as industrialised 7 day a week farming and Climate change look set to rebuke our restlessness. [You can read of such things in the Scripture – of how in sobering terms, the Creation is given its Sabbath. See 2 Chronicles 36 vs 17-21]
Sabbath keeping is not so much dry legalism as a matter of economic and ecological justice – a recognition that our lives are with each other and the Good Earth. This command is given to the people of God, that they might be a Light to the Nations, revealing the One in whom all things hold together, who rested from his labours. Perhaps we would do well to think, talk and pray together about how we might shape our Life Together in this regard?