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Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Sabbath: Rest as a Discipline

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." Ex 20.8

I always grew up hearing about how evil the Pharisees were. They were the bad guys. You know, because they wanted to kill Jesus, and who in their right mind would want to kill Jesus? One of the things they did most of was imposing sub-rules on pre-existing religious statements, particularly the Sabbath.

Having grown up in a congregation that claimed to "speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent," creating extra mini-rules was a pretty well established no-no. We always stuck to this statement. Aside from the fact that we believed dancing led to sex (or maybe the other way around, I was never sure which was worse), doing your own thinking was dangerous, the Bible was flawless, Catholics were evil and wanted to corrupt the word of God, and if you had ovaries you were as good as mute outside of singing during a worship assembly. All this to say, we rarely stuck to that statement.

Pharisees were not so different. When it came to the Torah, they frequently set boundaries for its teachings. With regards to the Sabbath, the most righteous of Jews defined very specifically what constituted the "work" from which one ought to refrain oneself on the holy day of the week. Now if they had been making rules for the sake of rule-making and just to be uptight, I would have had a serious qualm with them. But in a time of exile, when the Law is all you have and you believe God has maybe abandoned you and you're waiting for him to come back, you're very likely going to do all you can to stick to that Law, which meant some interpretive decisions would have to be made.

Thursdays are now my day off. By day off I mean opportunity to sleep in. With that one criterion, Sundays are not listed as a registered day off, but I digress. I went to bed last night (Wednesday) thinking, "Yes! I'll get some extra sleep, and actually rest all night!" And yet, at 7 am (when I normally wake up on any other day), my brain decided to punch sleep in the face. So here I sit, 8:30 am, and I'm blogging.

All of this brings me to a question: Is the Sabbath easy? If there's one thing I've noticed about Sundays as a Christian, it's that Sunday often involved as much work as the rest of the week. In high school, Sunday was the day when I crammed in all the homework I had avoided doing on Saturday. Now with a wife, grad school, and a job, Sunday ends up as a really good opportunity to do things like laundry and other household chores.

Is the Sabbath easy? I'm starting to think it's not. In a culture as driven as ours to perform, to act, to work, and to do, taking a moment to intentionally rest is rare. Even rarer is the notion that Christians not only rest, but do so within the infinite confines of God's loving arms. I would love to run to the one whose yolk is easy, who is the giver of rest, but most days I just don't know how.

If rest is more than goofing off, then the Sabbath is a difficult thing. While my Sabbath this week may be a Thursday, it would probably be a good thing to learn to embrace and be embraced by God at all times.

For those of you who struggle with a Sabbath, I'm right there with you. For you who have a discipline of rest, let the rest of us know what you do or don't do.

May the God who set aside a day for us to rest ever teach us to rest in him; may the Son who offers rest be the one to whom we run when we can run no further; and may the Spirit who guides us lead us deeper into connection with the Triune God in whom there is an infinite capacity for love, grace, and rest from the restlessness with which we have cloaked our lives.

Grace and peace,

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