By Joyce Palevitz
I have been thinking a lot recently about what it means to observe the Sabbath. I’ve returned to some books that have guided me along the way in the past 10 years or so: Abraham Joshua Heschel’s “The Sabbath” provides grounding in Sabbath-keeping from a Jewish perspective. Walter Brueggemann’s “Sabbath as Resistance” explores Sabbath-keeping as an alternative to our prevailing culture. And Marva Dawn’s “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting”, provides practical considerations, especially given that observing a day of rest in our culture is decidedly counter-cultural, and so it requires intention and practice.
Many have observed that – like it or not – the pandemic has brought us into a Sabbath-keeping time. I’m of the mind that observing a holy Sabbath is something I want to choose to do – to do it with intention, and with care and (most of all) with joy. I first learned about the joy of the Sabbath when I lived in Israel where everything pretty much stops from sundown Friday until sundown Saturday. But no one sees this as an imposition; no one complains about not being able to check email, or to go into work for a few hours, or to go shopping. in fact, the Sabbath is anticipated with longing and with joy. Friday evening Shabbat services are filled with palpable joy. On Saturday, no one feels guilty for taking a nap, for reading quietly for a couple of hours, or for sitting at the dinner table and not worrying about doing the dishes. (As a side note, during my growing up years in Ft. Worth, Sundays were pretty much like this!)
So, here’s where my pondering has led me.
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. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3)
As Walter Brueggemann puts it: “God declared a work stoppage!” There is so much wrapped up in this for me, but some key ideas are: one day a week, I need to just stop and let God bless the day. I need to cease trying to be productive or trying to accomplish something. I need to set aside the to-do list.
Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
Also, I need to rest. I give myself permission to take a nap on Sunday afternoons. I give myself permission to go for a walk that is not an “exercise” walk. I sit on my back porch and listen to the birds. Marva Dawn writes: “The movement from ceasing to resting is the movement from idolatry to faith.” My aim is to make my Sabbath a day that nourishes and strengthens my faith.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
One of the biggest “aha’s” I’ve had recently is challenging myself to think about what I consume on Sundays – and I don’t mean in the way of food. Of course I yearn for the day, as we all do, when we can worship together again. But in the meantime, we still have a wonderful “spread” of spiritual food in liturgy that comes right into our homes. I’m sorry to admit that early on, I did not value it enough because it wasn’t like church as I wanted it to be. I’ve been so stubborn! It’s taken me some weeks to find my way into the virtual experience. But now, I’m absolutely resolved to take it seriously and fully participate in church.
In all this, I’m mindful that the task is to be intentional, but not rigid. As Jesus reminded his followers: “the Sabbath is made for humans, not humans for the Sabbath.” Not to be burdened by rules, but rather to imagine what my life looks like when I’m most fully alive. Surely it is good for us to spend one day week being fully alive. What can I do on the Sabbath that is an authentic expression of who I am, living fully and faithfully?
I am confident that on some Sunday in the future, we will find ourselves again in the sanctuary at St. David’s – to pray and sing, to laugh and cry, and (hopefully) hug each other. And when we stand and say to each other “The peace of Christ be with you” – well, I hope we truly, sincerely, and intentionally wish the “Shalom” of the Sabbath to one another In joy and in gratitude for this wonderful gift of the Sabbath.
In the meantime, I plan to continue to find ways to keep the Sabbath: to rest, to feast on music and scripture and sermon, to call a friend, to take a walk, and to let the Sabbath carry me deeply into the heart and purposes of God.