How often have you heard or said yourself, “I just don’t have enough time!”
We are all time-starved — there is so much to do: earn a living, care for your family, exercise, clean the house, go to school, attend sporting events and concerts, church events, sleep, eat. And in the midst of all this we hope to maintain our sanity, and to keep growing as faithful and loving people at the same time. What is a person to do?
For time-starved people, the faith practice of keeping Sabbath may be the answer. This practice is at the heart of both Judaism and Christianity.
There are two places in the Hebrew Scriptures where the commandments are listed. Each of these places offers a different but related reason for keeping the Sabbath. In the book of Exodus, the people are commanded to keep the Sabbath as a holy day following God’s pattern of working for six days then resting on the seventh day because in both work and rest we are reflecting the image of God (Exodus 20:8-11).
In Deuteronomy, the people are commanded to rest on the seventh day because slaves cannot take a day off, but free people can and they are now free people. So, when the people rest on the seventh day they will remember that God brought them out of slavery in Egypt to freedom (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).
Jesus observed the Jewish Sabbath, although there are many times he ignored the restriction not to work on this day. For example, on the Sabbath he healed the man with the withered hand, the man sitting by the pool of Bethesda unable to walk and the man born blind. When he is criticized for healing on the Sabbath he responded, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:11).
Many of you remember when legislation kept businesses closed on Sunday, but that has changed. Now many people are required to work on Sundays so we can go to Giant, Target, Wal-Mart or the mall after church. So how can we keep Sabbath? One suggestion is to be flexible in embracing Sabbath time; engage in worship and play along with daily spiritual renewal during the rest of the week.
The Sabbath is not about taking a day off but about remembering to acknowledge gratitude for God’s activity in creating the world, resurrecting Jesus Christ and loving care for all people.
So you might be asking yourself, “What can I do and not do to keep Sabbath?” What is not good to do during Sabbath time: work, shop and worry. No one is so indispensable or their work so important that they cannot take a day off to rest and relax.
Refrain from shopping on Sundays, when we shop others are required to work. Try not to worry. It may be difficult to banish cares from our minds altogether but we can refrain from activities that we know will summon worry, such as paying bills, preparing tax returns and making lists of things to do in the coming week.
What is good to do on the Sabbath: attend worship services, engage in your enjoyment of art, nature or sports, sleep, read, take a walk, hike or bike ride, pray and reflect on your blessings, visit with family, share a meal with a friend, visit someone in the hospital or nursing home, be joyful. All these are relaxing and renewing as we begin another busy week.
The faith practice of keeping Sabbath is a commitment to God and one way we grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. I invite you this week to pay attention to how you keep the Sabbath.
Monica Ouellette is pastor at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Boalsburg.