I recently read an article published some years ago in The New York Times by the neurologist Oliver Sacks on the topic of Sabbath. Sacks abandoned his Jewish faith as a teenager, but later in life came to be somewhat of a spiritual seeker. As he moved toward the end of life, his appreciation of the Jewish observance of Sabbath deepened because he saw in it a metaphor for how life is to be lived: “doing good in one’s work and activity and enjoying the peace of the Sabbath.”
Let’s face it. As American Christians we take the “doing good in one’s work and activity” and run with it! We fill our schedules with activities and social events. Busy-ness has almost become a sign of moral uprightness for most of us. Don’t get me wrong. Doing good in one’s work, engaging in activities that keep us healthy and growing, taking on projects that help others—all those things are good, and Scripture is clear that God sees those works as holy. Scripture also tells us that after six days of creative activity, God rested. One of the ten commandments, remember, is to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy (set apart). Jesus observed the Sabbath, too, although he flipped his lid when the religious leaders objected to his healing work on the Sabbath. Jesus reminded them that humans were not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for them. In other words, Sabbath is a gift.
As Christians, we don’t observe Sabbath in the ways that Jesus or our Jewish sisters and brothers do. Nevertheless, the principle of Sabbath—a time for rest, worship, and renewal—is a gift from God, and is part of our faith tradition. Keeping Sabbath, after all, made it into God’s top ten things to do or not to do! So, what does Sabbath mean for us and how do we unwrap the gift that it is in our own day? How do we make space in our busy schedules and in our cluttered minds for rest and renewal?
During the season of Lent, we are going to explore what Sabbath means for us today, why it’s essential for living a healthy life, and how we can open our lives to the rest and renewal God desires for us, even in the midst of our busy lives. We’ll address it in sermons, discuss it in adult formation, and explore the role of prayer in Sabbath on three Wednesday nights in March. We’re working to make this teaching as practical and accessible as possible. I hope you’ll commit to engage as much as you can as a part of your Lenten observance.