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Marjorie George, Editor, ReflectionsOnline email@example.com.
When Moses presented the Ten Commandments – including the fourth commandment to observe Sabbath — to the people, he included instructions for their use. “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart,” he said. “Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).
Moses did not say, “Frame them and hang them on the walls of your living rooms as witness to your holiness.” He did not suggest wearing them as lovely little charms on silver necklaces. He did not limit the reading of them to the Lenten season. “Talk about them,” he said. Talk about them with your children and your friends. I wonder how many of us greet each other on Monday morning with, “So, how was your Sabbath?”
Sabbath is not a Sunday drive; it is a way of life. Every day is to be a day of rejoicing in the glory of God’s creation. Every day we are to bless God for his work of redemption. Every day we are to treat those who serve us with respect and regard. Every day we are to stop and smell the roses.
Jesus himself expanded the meaning of Sabbath beyond a one-day-a-week observance. He understood Sabbath to be both a day of worship – he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath as was his custom (Luke 4:16) – and a day of celebration. His hungry disciples picked from the grainfields on the Sabbath; he healed a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath; he taught on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1, 10; Mark 6:2).
In his very death and resurrection, Christ infused traditional Sabbath customs with radical new life. Old things were turned into new. The Passover meal became the giving of his body and blood for the life of the world. At his death, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. He was laid in the tomb quickly in observance of the coming Sabbath. His resurrection occurred on the day of Sabbath and was discovered by the women the next day (Mark 15-16). No longer could they, nor do we, look for him in the tomb – our life-in-Christ spills out into every part of our coming and going, our living and breathing, our solitude and our exuberance.
Sabbath, like the entire Easter event, is an invitation to a new reality. Hebrew has a word for it – menuha. It is the word translated as “rest” in Genesis 2:2. In his book The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that something was created on the Sabbath and that something was menuha: tranquility, serenity, peace and repose.
Perhaps Christ was thinking of menuha when he said, just before he set his face toward Jerusalem, ”Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (Jn. 14:27). Note that this peace is “not as the world gives.” The new reality of Sabbath simply must acknowledge that no amount of power, prestige, or money will bring peace.
How shall we live Sabbath every day? By looking again at what Moses said: Talk about it. Think about it. Make it a screen-saver on your computer. Band together and start a movement to quit playing soccer on Sunday.
After we wave our palm crosses and shout our alleluias this Sunday, can we enter into Holy Week with a Sabbath mentality? Over the past six weeks, we have looked at several different aspects of Sabbath: celebrate creation, give thanks for redemption, stop and rest, extend Jubilee, shift perspective, engage Sabbath every day (read the preceding reflections on this blog). What if we took one topic to concentrate on – in whatever way works for you – each day of Holy Week? What if we look at where Christ’s journey through Holy Week coincides with these topics?
Perhaps, then, our Easter celebration can be just the beginning of living Sabbath all the days of our lives.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fifth Wednesday of Lent
The Death of Moses
Moses did not enter the Promised Land. After all his years of faithfulness to God, all the grief he took from the Israelites, all the time in the desert, Moses did not get to the Promised Land. At the end of Moses’ life, God called him to the top of Mount Nebo and showed him the Promised Land. “This is the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,” said the Lord. And he showed to Moses “Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar.”
This is the land I am giving to your children, said God. “But you will not go there” (Deuteronomy 34:1-12).
Most people see God’s action here as punishment for something Moses had done. And, in fact, two chapters earlier, God reprimanded Moses for “breaking faith.” Back when they were wandering around in the desert, the Israelites had complained because they were thirsty, so God gave Moses a rod to strike against a rock from which water would flow. Strict constructionists say that Moses took credit for the job instead of giving credit to God, or that he struck the rock twice instead of once. Or perhaps God was disappointed that the people did not trust Him to provide and blamed Moses. At any rate, God declared that Moses would not enter the Promised Land, “because you did not believe in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of the people of Israel” (Numbers 20:10-13).
But the voice of God that I hear in chapter 34 of Deuteronomy is not a voice of reproof; it is a voice of love. There in the land of Moab, at the age of 120, still full of vigor and good health, Moses dies and is buried. The Hebrew word used may mean that God himself secretly buried Moses. To this day “no one knows his burial place” (34:7).
The Israelites wept for 30 days, then they moved on. They followed Joshua, the leader Moses had appointed, and they crossed over the Jordan River into the Promised Land.
The epitaph for Moses reads thusly: “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, none like him for all the signs and the wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, and for all the mighty power and all the great and terrible deeds which Moses wrought in the sight of all Israel” (Deut 34:10-12).
What if, instead of seeing the circumstances of Moses’ death as downfall, we see it as a Sabbath moment?
If God took me to a high mountain, showed me that my children would live in a new land free of oppression and strife, and told me that I would abide with Him for all eternity, I would die a happy woman.
If, during my lifetime, I had seen the Lord face to face and my successors praised me for my faithful acts done in the sight of God’s people, I could take that to my grave. If I knew that the struggle had been worth it and the one I had appointed to carry on would do a fine job of it, I would see that as a good thing.
Sabbath moments are just such moments of recognition of God’s hand at work in our lives. Sabbath moments are about seeing that what I have been given is sufficient, and that I have no need of longing for more. Sabbath is about seeing things from a different perspective.
In his book The Rest of God, Mark Buchanan suggests that “before we keep a Sabbath day, we cultivate a Sabbath heart.” We shift perspective instead of waiting for circumstances to change. “You still have the same job tomorrow, the same problems with your aging parents or wayward children, the same battle looming at church,” he says. “But you make a deliberate choice to shift point of view, to come at your circumstances from a fresh angle.”
Buchanan even suggests that time set aside for Sabbath must include such a shift in perspective. Sabbath is not just time to get away from the job – the TGIF mentality. It is time set aside –sanctified – as time spent with God specifically to bring about a shift in perspective.
And seeing differently, we are free to live differently, or, in the case of Moses, to die differently.
In God’s economy, God’s reward is God himself; and that is sufficient.
For your spiritual discipline this week:
Are there some circumstances in your life that might benefit from a new perspective?
What do you most want to hear God say to you when you die? What is your epitaph?
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at email@example.com.
Fourth Wednesday of Lent
Jesus went to the synagogue and stood up to read. Luke tells us that the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll, found the place he was looking for, and read: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (4:16-19). Some versions have it “to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”
Jesus’ hearers knew what he was talking about: the “year of the Lord” was code for the year of Jubilee that had been proclaimed in Leviticus 25:8-13. Jubilee was to be observed every 50 years. In that year, which occurred after seven times seven years, a ram’s horn was to be sounded “long and loud” throughout the land. In that year, servants were to be set free. In that year, all debts were to be cancelled. In that year, land was to be returned to its owner, and people were to return to their families.
But Jesus was sounding a different trumpet. Jesus was making any year and every year to be a Jubilee year. The promises of Jubilee, formerly required only during the Jubilee year, were now available on demand.
In this, Jesus was declaring restoration for all to the life God had originally intended for us. Jesus was declaring equity among all people – and, indeed, among all of God’s creation. He was wiping out the burdens and misfortunes of the past generations; they were not to be visited upon present generations. Jesus was into “do-overs.”
Frankly, I see this as a better deal than having MasterCard reset my balance to zero.
The acceptable year of the Lord, said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a sermon preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on June 5, 1966, is “any year when men decide to do right.”*
It appears, then, that the idea of Jubilee can be bestowed by one man to another. Or one country to another. Or one political party to another, or one denomination to another, or one parent to a child, or one child to a parent.
Jubilee – the Sabbath of Sabbaths – was the great equalizer. Those with power were to give it up. Those who held authority were to lay it down. Those who held the collateral were to wipe clean the slate of debts. The advantage here seems to go to the weak and powerless. But there is much to be gained by the humbling act of relinquishment.
The question this brings to us, I think, is not for what do we need to seek forgiveness, but in what do we need to relinquish position? Where are the places in my life that cry out for resolution, for giving up of past hurts, for releasing any who are in debt to me, especially when I use those debts as evidence of what is owed to me?
And this question is to be addressed, apparently, not just once a year or once a decade or once a lifetime. This is the question Christ puts before us constantly.
The trumpet is sounding. Come, celebrate Jubilee.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Read Dr. King’s entire sermon at http://sowhatfaith.com/2011/01/17/the-acceptable-year-of-the-lord-rev-dr-martin-luther-king-jr/
Third Wednesday of Lent
It is said by anthropologists that in our lifetime we are experiencing the sixth great extinction of species, the last having occurred 65 million years ago when something – perhaps an object colliding with earth – resulted in the end of the dinosaurs. This current extinction, however, is being caused not by a cataclysmic event but by one particular species being concerned only with itself. We have met this species — and it is us.
Nobel Prize winning scientist Paul Crutzen of the Netherlands has described this era as “anthropocene” – for the first time in the life of our planet, all of life is influenced by only one species – humankind. We scurry about in a frenzy not unlike a disturbed ant hill – reacting and over-reacting when our own needs are threatened, consuming everything in our paths as we march toward “progress,” discarding carelessly what does not benefit us. We are two-year-olds at a birthday party, hyped up on sugar and racing around from place to place.
Wise parents know what to do with frenzied two-year-olds: “Stop!” “Sit down,” we say, “take a time out.”
God, our wise father, knows that. “Stop,” he tells us in the fourth commandment. “Rest on the Sabbath day.” But God’s admonition to rest does not mean stop for a few hours and then get back to it. How many of us, if we do take a break on Sunday, use the time to plan out our calendar for the coming week?
There is plenty of evidence that the word “rest” used in the Sabbath commands found in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:15 means much more than resting from labor. Rather the word “rest” in early Israelite thinking was more akin to “settle down.”
The ark that Noah has built floats on the water, and settles down on the mountains of Ararat (Genesis 8:4). God leads his people into the Promised Land and declares that his presence will cause them to settle down there (Exodus 33:14). The people will settle down and no longer fear their enemies (Deuteronomy 25:19).
The image is one of cessation from wandering, finding a sweet spot and resting (settling down) there. No longer will the Israelites be a nomadic people; they will settle in their own land. God will supply all their needs and they will be safe from their enemies. They will settle down under God’s providence and protection.
There is a sense of cessation and completion to the Old Testament notion of rest/settling down. On the seventh day of creation, God ceased working and rested. His creation was complete, it was good — in fact it was perfect. Couldn’t be improved upon. (And yet, we try . . .)
The question for us this Lent is: what it is that we long to be free from? What do we need to call a halt to so that we can be aware of God’s presence? In Lenten terms, from what shall we fast so that we can settle down with God?
Maybe it’s time to give up our rampant consumerism: A young man came to Jesus and asked what he must do to gain eternal life. “How do you read the scriptures?” asked Christ. “Love God and your neighbor,” replied the man. “Right,” said Jesus. “Now sell everything you have and think about someone other than yourself.” And the man went away sad, because he had a lot of possessions (Matthew 19:16-22).
Maybe it’s time to let go of an old grievance: A younger brother took his inheritance and squandered it on loose living while the older brother stayed home and took care of the family business. Eventually the young rascal came home, asking for forgiveness, which his father readily and happily gave him. But the older brother pouted, “You never threw a party for me” (Luke 15:11-31).
Maybe it’s time to cease our divisions along political lines, gender differences, skin color, ethnicities, or number of degrees behind our names. A Pharisee stood praying, thankful he was not like “that other one” ( Luke 18:9-14).
Maybe we need to recognize – and do something about – the huge amount of time we focus on ourselves rather than on our planet, our neighbors, our God who so longs to spend time with us. If Paul Crutzen, as well as that other Paul, is correct, all of creation is dependent upon us (see Romans 8:20-22).
Spiritual discipline for the third week of Lent: read again the preceding four paragraphs and put yourself into them. Where might you need to cease from rampant consumerism, old grievances, divisions, mirror-gazing, so that you can settle down with God?
Second Wednesday of Lent
“Now there arose in Egypt a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph,” (Exodus 1:8) and that was when the trouble began for the Hebrews. You will remember that the Israelites had come to Egypt because of a great famine in their land. In Egypt they had initially found favor with Pharaoh because they were the family of Joseph whom Pharaoh had set in charge of all his possessions (read the whole story in Genesis 42-50).
Even after Joseph’s death, “the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them” (Exodus 1:7).
But after many years, there arose a Pharaoh to whom Joseph meant nothing, and this one was afraid of the Hebrews, for they were becoming more populous; so he enslaved them.
The Israelites were forced to make bricks and work in the fields, says Scripture. “And in this the Egyptians worked them ruthlessly” (Exodus 1:11-14).
It would be 400 years before God called Moses to lead God’s people out of bondage and into the Promised Land.
And it is this event, say many biblical scholars, that rightly begins the history of the Hebrew people, for their story is a story of salvation. “They saw their beginnings as a people in being saved from slavery and oppression,” says Barbara Bowe in Biblical Foundations of Spirituality “and their understanding of their God originates in that event.”
So important is the release from oppression that the writer of Deuteronomy sets it as the primary reason for the establishment of Sabbath.
Whereas in Exodus (20:8-11) the fourth commandment calls the people to set aside the Sabbath to celebrate creation, the Deuteronomy version stresses redemption. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (5:15).
Here the purpose of Sabbath is to remember the old, old story and to live as those released from bondage – bondage to sin, to exploitation, to oppression, to want.
It is always helpful to remember our stories. For Christians, the Hebrew story is a rehearsal, a foreshadowing of the Christ story. In Easter, we claim our ultimate redemption – the chains of hell are loosed and we, with Christ, are offered a new and glorious life.
And what of our own stories? Where, in our lives, do we see the hand of God saving us from death (literal or figurative) and utter despair? What oppression have we had the courage to throw off because we knew God to be with us? What exploitation have we recognized in our lives or the lives we encounter? Where, at one time believing ourselves to be separated from God, do we now see that God was at work all along?
Remembering the past, we take courage for the future. The Exodus event taught the Israelites to trust that God would provide enough manna for each day’s food and not a drop more (well, OK, they were slow to learn; so are we sometimes).
Redemption received teaches us of redemption yet to come. Nothing in our lives is beyond redemption. It may take a while, in human reckoning. That was a long 400 years for the Israelites. Then we say, with Paul, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
We say our prayers and appeal to the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit is always interceding on our behalf (8:26). We hang our faith and lives on the belief that it is all working together for good, and even if we do not see that now, we will some day (8:28).
And we remember. We read the old, old story once again, how once upon a time we didn’t know God and now we do. We remember our own stories, and we give thanks for our own Sabbath event.
Discipline for the second week of Lent: Tell someone your story. Recall a time when God redeemed a difficult situation, and celebrate that.
Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013
It was on a Sunday evening, back when the only grocery store open on a Sunday past 6 p.m. was the local Seven-Eleven (so named because it was open from 7 am to 11 pm – extended hours at the time). I had run out of milk for our Monday-morning cereal, and at the Seven-Eleven I ran into a neighbor who was in the same predicament. “You’d think that good, God-fearing folk would figure out to have milk before Sunday evening,” he said, chuckling at both of us. I was appropriately remorseful.
If my children remember a time when Sunday was not a business-as-usual day, my grandchildren don’t. It was actually 1985 when the Texas “Blue Laws” were finally repealed. The “Blue Laws” – so named because, some say, they had been printed on blue paper in Puritan New England – had been in effect in Texas since 1863. On August 26, 1985, a Dallas newspaper declared that the laws would become history the following weekend. “Its time has come,” said a man quoted in the newspaper article. “The lifestyle in this state has changed.” With the increasing number of two-wage-earner families, there was no time to shop during the week, said the man, adding that shopping together on a Sunday might even become a welcome family event.
It hasn’t. And now our cup overfloweth with Sunday activities. Returning to church after an absence of several years, one woman recently explained that she had been attending “the church of Sunday morning soccer.” Her last child had recently left home for college.
Good, God-fearing folk have not taken over the planet.
Even so, and not to excuse our current lifestyle that extends our crazy busyness to Sunday, refraining from work and other activities was not the sole purpose of the Sabbath as God gave it.
We encounter Sabbath primarily in the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments, as we know them — although Sabbath is mentioned 106 times in the Old Testament, some prior to the giving of the commandments at Sinai. Reported in Exodus chapter 20:8-11, the fourth commandment is this: “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.”
The “seventh day” then, was to be a day of celebration. God had created, and it was good stuff. God did not rest on the seventh day to gather energy to keep on creating, notes author Barbara Reid. Sabbath is for taking delight in all that God had already created.
Sabbath is a day, a time, set apart to recognize who, after all, is the creator and who is the created. And to give thanks for the arrangement. And to enjoy it. Sabbath for the Hebrew people was a day of feasting, dancing, singing, making love with one’s spouse. Sons and daughters, servants and animals, even non-Hebrews passing through were to celebrate in thanksgiving.
On Ash Wednesday we are reminded that we are mere mortals and part of the created order: “Remember, O man that dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return,” is the mantra as our foreheads are marked with the ashes of repentance and humility. Remember the act of your creation, how the Lord God took dust from the earth, formed it into man, and breathed life into its nostrils (Genesis 2:7).
Sabbath, like Lent, is a time for remembering. Sabbath, like Lent, is a time of “making room for” – of stopping from our life pursuits in order to remember the very source of our lives and to give thanks and even to celebrate that which we have been given.
Sabbath, like Lent, is a time for loosening our grip around our tightly-ordered lives. It is a time for realizing that – really – God does not measure our lives by how much we accomplish in a day.
Sabbath, like Lent, is a time of intentionality – a time of stopping long enough to be aware of our lives lived in grace.
So our Sabbath discipline for this first week in Lent is to set aside time to simply be with God. Set aside a time in the early morning or late evening or at lunchtime – whenever you are at your best – to stop and reflect on all that God has given you. Plan it – set an alarm in your iPhone (and here you could have fun with ring tones), mark it on your calendar. Make it a day, make it a half-day, do it for five minutes.
The Lord will bless your time, and make it holy.
Most of us think of Sabbath as simply not working on Sunday. But the framework of the Sabbath calls us to live intentionally mindful of the gifts God has given us and our response to them. During this season of Lent, we will consider several aspects of Sabbath living and look at ways to incorporate them into our everyday lives, during Lent and beyond.
Our Lenten reflections begin on Ash Wednesday, February 13, and continue through Holy Week.
Other Resources for your Lenten Journey:
The brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist have created a video series on prayer as a Lenten resource. A short video from the series, Praying Our Lives, will be available each day in Lent through Facebook <https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfSSJE> , Twitter <http://twitter.com/ssjeword> , YouTube <http://www.youtube.com/user/SSJEOnline> and Pinterest <http://pinterest.com/ssje/praying-our-lives-lent-daily-videos/>
Or sign up to receive the daily videos at ssje.org/prayer <http://www.ssje.org/prayer> .
CREDO, the Episcopal Church’s health and wellness initiative, offers Feeding and Fasting, a series of reflections for Lent. The series invites us to a holy Lent both by taking on those disciplines that bring us closer to God, and shedding those indulgences, habits, and practices that steal our attention.
Click here for more info and to sign up.
Parishioners at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wimberley, Texas, post daily reflections based on the Episcopal Church Daily Office readings. To read them, click here: http://www.ststeve.org/content/documents/devotionals.pdf
Read morning and evening devotions offered by the Mission of St. Clare