Ever since the people of God had been the people of God, they had lived this way. For six days, they could labor and do their work, planting crops or harvesting crops each in due season. Shearing sheep and spinning wool each in due season. Sewing bridal veils or forging swords and spears each in due season. For six days, the people of God could labor and do their work, whatever that might be. But on the seventh day all labor had to stop. On the seventh day, they could do no work, whether it was urgent or mundane. Planting had to be left for a day. Harvesting had to be left for a day. Shearing sheep and spinning wool and sewing bridal veils and forging swords for war, all had to stop. Out of every seven days, one day was set aside in its entirety when there could be no work, no matter what.
Ever since the people of God had been the people of God they had done this. The command to rest on the seventh day had no ending, it bore no exceptions. Even when it seemed that work was needed just to survive, they had to keep the Sabbath.
There was a time when the people of God were wandering in the desert. Just months removed from slavery in Egypt, with no supplies and no idea where they were going. For six days they could work to fashion tents to protect them from the elements. For six days they could work to fashion spears to protect themselves from wolves or bandits. But on the seventh day they rested and remembered God. They kept Sabbath in the wilderness. The people of God rested in aimlessness and drew close to God.
There was a time when the people of God had settled in a broad and good land, had planted crops and vineyards and olive groves. They were doing the joyful but daunting work of putting down roots to settle. For six days the people of God would work with plow and axe and sweat and ingenuity to build lives for themselves and their children, but on the seventh day they rested and remembered God. They kept Sabbath in the land of Israel. The people of God rested in unfinished work and drew close to God.
There was a time after the people of God had settled in their home, when a great enemy army came and destroyed everything they had worked for. The people had built a temple for God Babylon destroyed. The people had built cities to live in, Babylon destroyed them, too. The people had made the desert bloom, it became a desolation again, a haunt of jackals. For six days the people of God would wail with grief, and weep with anger, and worry themselves to exhaustion over what to do now, but on the seventh day they rested and remembered God. They kept Sabbath when all was lost. The people of God rested in Babylon and drew close to God.
Six days of work, and one of rest. Six days of work and one of rest. Six days of work, and one of rest. Always. Without exception. For all time and all seasons and all places, forever. The Sabbath has never stopped being celebrated, and as long as the people of God are the people of God, until time’s twilight and world’s end, the Sabbath will never stop being celebrated. The people of God have to rest. We have to rest. I have to rest. You have to rest.
The Sabbath is part of what made the people of God who we are. It is part of how we remember to whom we belong. The Sabbath is not an imposition that makes hard times worse, the Sabbath is a sustaining taste of heaven here on earth. The Sabbath is not like any other time. It is not allowed to prepare for the future or repair the past and so the future and the past have no reality, on Sabbath the people of God are to enjoy what is and leave off worry and regret. Sabbath is a festival of the present moment, a festival of the presence of God here and now, a festival of the goodness and sufficiency of what is.
The Sabbath is a state being unlike any other. It is a day when it is quite possible to live up to the fullness of God’s moral commands. On the Sabbath a person can be morally righteous, truly righteous! All that a person is required to do is rest, all that a person is allowed to do is rest, and if a person rests then on Sabbath they are morally blameless in God’s sight.
Perhaps you feel you have work to do before God could love you. On the Sabbath you’re not allowed to try to work to earn God’s love. Perhaps you should work harder to help others, or rebuild broken trust, or work hard to get healthier, perhaps this work is important to do, but not on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a festival of human righteousness that favors most the ones who are weary and heavy burdened, the ones in need of rest, they are most thoroughly prepared to do what is right in God’s sight. On the Sabbath you are righteous to simply be beloved. On the Sabbath you are righteous to simply be beloved.
The Sabbath has never stopped being celebrated, and as long as the people of God are the people of God, until time’s twilight and world’s end, the Sabbath will never stop being celebrated. Because it is so sweet to do so. So, people of God, remember that the Sabbath is part of what makes you who you are. The Sabbath is part of how you can remember to whom you belong. So celebrate the Sabbath. Yes you, celebrate the Sabbath. Your life will be better for it.
I’ll even cut you a deal, you can celebrate the Sabbath whenever you please. You don’t need to celebrate Sabbath on any particular day. You don’t even need to celebrate Sabbath for an entire day at a time. You can celebrate the Sabbath at any time you wish, for as long as you can. Sabbath may be a precious half day where you simply spend a beautiful sunrise walking through Boston Common meeting the unblinking gaze of the day and knowing that, come what may, the sun will surely set with or without your say-so. It may be a half hour spent sitting on a train, with silence in your spirit amidst the world’s shouting, stillness amidst the worlds whirling, at rest, knowing that for every moment that you rest you are doing everything God would have you do, no more and no less.
Perhaps you are wandering in the desert of unknowing, having departed forever from a way of living life that used to make sense but no longer. Perhaps you are settled and building a home, scratching and clawing for a place to call your own but you are bone tired. Perhaps everything you ever built has come tumbling down around you and you do not know what to do but weep beside the rivers of Babylon. Perhaps your spirit wishes that these words were true, that:
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold* of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
One thing I asked of the LORD,
that will I seek after:
to dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to gaze on God’s temple.
For God will hide me and shelter me
on the day of evil;
Even if my father and mother should forsake me,
the LORD would gather me in.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
If you need God’s guidance and don’t know what the right thing to do is: Take Sabbath, take rest. Taking Sabbath will always be a part of God’s plan for your life. So if every other part of your life is chaos, Sabbath can be your spirit’s home with God. Sabbath can be a taste of heaven here on earth, a glimpse of the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. May it be so.