And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. Genesis 2:2
Work and rest provide structure and rhythm to our lives. Work is part-and-parcel to life; it is inescapable. Rest, however, is something that can be delayed or put-off, save for sleeping. So it makes sense that when God created the universe, God rested, modeling and establishing the God-mandated tradition of humans taking time to rest.
There was once a time when Sundays left few options for things to do save for worship and leisure time with family: stores were closed. Quiet Sundays were an American tradition dating back to the Puritans and the Blue Laws, described as such due to the color of the paper on which the laws were written. For the span of your life, you’ve watched these laws be dismantled. Most Christians didn’t object to these changes because they provided opportunities and flexibility.
Gone are the days when Old Testament law delineated what activity was allowed on the Sabbath and what tasks were prohibited. This lack of structure around the Sabbath has produced a culture where people are chronically tired, over-worked, and stressed. The to-do list is always with us in the form of a cell phone. Caffeine keeps us going. In an age where we enjoy appliances and technology that lessen our workload, we are burdened with even more work, fueled by the notion that we can get it all done. If we don’t take Sabbath time, then our systems will break down in the form of medical problems, stress, burnout, and fatigue.
In the New Testament, Jesus’ teachings on the Sabbath tend to point to himself rather than a given 24-hour period. Martin Luther’s explanation of the Sabbath is consistent with Jesus’ teachings. In his Small Catechism, this is what Luther wrote in his explanation to the 3rd commandment: Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
What does this mean? We should fear (revere) and love God so that we do not despise preaching and His Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it.
Luther connected the Sabbath with hearing God’s word. It is Christ and his word as experienced in Scripture, his words of forgiveness, and his Holy Communion that restores us. Attending worship is a way in which we are able to disengage from the tasks that can overwhelm us and allow God’s word to shape us.
We hear who Christ is and how he works in our lives. We recollect. And in that process, we are re-created to be the men and women God intends for us to be. Recollection and re-creation.
Sabbath is not solely a once a week activity. Our lives should be structured to allow Sabbath on a yearly, monthly, and daily level as well. In one sense, July is a Sabbath month for Messiah. About 10% of our congregation goes north for the summer. Others travel. In fact, I am traveling up north with my family in July to revisit the places of my upbringing, places I haven’t visited for over twenty years. I am looking forward to remembering and sharing these places with my children. I am grateful for the time away for reconnecting with family, rest, and renewal.
Consider the rhythms of your life, paying attention to what energizes you and what depletes your energy. Look to Christ as the one whose love and grace restores you.
See You in Worship, Pastor Jason Talsness
FURTHER READING: Bring Back the Sabbath by Shulevitz, New York Times Magazine (March 3, 2003)