blogging the 10 commandments: #4
I took a brief Sabbath from blogging about some reflections on the 10 commandments and have returned just in time to continue with number 4.
Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. ~ Ex. 20:8-11
I have written about the Sabbath before (found here) but there is always more to say about such a day as this.
My husband and I enjoyed the most beautiful Sabbath experience several years ago during a trip to Africa. We had spent 5 weeks in Mozambique with people we loved, working very full days, writing, preparing, teaching, discipling, learning, traveling, preaching, visiting, counseling and conversing. There was no time off. We enjoyed it so much we didn’t realize how tired we were until we left Mozambique and landed in Capetown, South Africa (via Johannesburg). While there we had some time to take in the lovely seascape, travel around the Cape of Good Hope while dodging penguins and baboons, and gaze at all the beauty from high up on Table Mountain. Interspersed between those things was a visit to Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela had been imprisoned for 27 years) and visits to a few of the many townships where poor, black South Africans still reside post-apartheid. The strange juxtaposition of it all was too much for my mind to hold.
One morning, we ended up at an old winery. A huge, leafy tree beckoned us to come sit beneath it and rest alongside a small blue pond. Dappled sunlight poured through the leaves above us as we sunk into in white wicker chairs. The temperature was perfect, neither too warm nor cool. It was so perfect in fact, that we barely noticed any temperature at all. A gentle breeze rustled through endless rows of grapevines that wove up into the small hills that encircled the vineyard. The vineyard owner’s two purebred dogs came out to sit with us in the shade of the tree, lying in two half-moons at our feet. As if on cue, two glasses of wine would appear at intervals for tasting, accompanied by cheese and fruit. The time for work and worry had passed for the moment, and it was time to drink in beauty with all of our senses. We were soaked in Presence. We could feel God’s pleasure.
Sabbath time. Sabbath is more than a pleasant day off, or a reward for hard work. It is a call to remember. The Sabbath command recalls a time that pre-dates the day that we forgot God and forgot ourselves. It recalls beauty, harmony and life abundant. It stirs longing for the home we’ve never really known but desire just the same. It is a thin place, where we once again may walk in the garden with God in the cool of the day. It helps us to rediscover joy – an experience that is sorely lacking in so much of our lives that are consumed by survival and competition and production. Sabbath increases our longing for wholeness and wellness. Sabbath is a connection to our past and to the future, where we at once recall the beauty for which we were designed, and gain a better vision for the coming reign of God. It is a reminder of the promise: “All shall be well”.
What’s most remarkable to me about this commandment is that it includes a profound sense of God’s heart for justice. Sabbath rest is not merely for the rich and privileged who can afford not to work. Nor is it merely for those who have “earned” the right to rest. As Jesus reminds us so many times in various ways, those who seemed not to work as hard or “do it right” will still be welcomed by Him, just like the parable in which the workers who started their labor late in the day in the vineyard got the same reward as those who had toiled since the early morning. God simply does not measure us by the things that seem logical in a post-fall world. Sabbath reflects grace.
The commandment about Sabbath was spoken to the Jews after they had been freed from slavery in Egypt. They knew what it was like to be the hated and oppressed other. And now they learned that the people of God were never to treat others that way. The Sabbath would include all – male and female, people of all stations of life, strangers and even animals. All would be free to enjoy God and others. The Sabbath is meant for all Creation. It foreshadows the Kingdom to come but as we practice it together it helps to create Kingdom Now.
As I was teaching about this one day in Mozambique, I was struck by the overwhelming irony of being a white American standing in authority as a teacher over black Africans in their own country. I prayed, God what do I do with this? I sensed Him say, “Speak to them about their story.” So with more than a little trembling, I did. I began to speak of the reality of slavery that had ravaged their continent and despoiled the moral health of a large part of the world for centuries. Their eyes reflected deep shame and they slunk lower into their seats.
As our conversation progressed they began to reveal some of the lies they had been told. “Is it true,” one asked, “that we are black because we are so sinful?” Is it true that we are black because we are cursed?” “Is it true that the white man must rule over us because we are sinful?” They had been told all these things by colonists and remembered them for generations. We went to the text together to disrupt those lies. And because of the fourth commandment that speaks to former slaves about equity and God’s heart for all, they were able to bring their story to the true Story. They began to pop like popcorn out of their seats. “Africa is blessed!” one man cried.
Sabbath, it seems, is a transformative practice. It is a great equalizer. When we each remember to interrupt and stop what we believe is our life and look up to remember our Source, we stop measuring and rating and comparing ourselves to one another. Then as we make space for all to experience Sabbath rest by removing our resentments and demands upon the other, we remember our interconnectedness. When we all are free to dream, rest and play, and all are free to pause and drink in the same beauty under a sunlit tree, then all are finally recognized to be the fruit of the same Vine.
I believe that Sabbath is a practice that we cannot afford to ignore. It is a commandment that is restorative for us on many levels. But even as we are intentional about practicing Sabbath as a community, there will still be food to be prepared, babies to be changed, or animals to be tended. Somebody’s hands will be serving. The fact that while we live in this world our work never truly stops just serves to remind us that true Sabbath never happens without some form of sacrifice. That too, is part of the Story that needs to be recalled again and again.