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was not a business-as-usual day, my grandchildren don’t. It was actually 1985 when the Texas “Blue Laws” were finally repealed.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.
Marjorie George is editor of ReflectionsOnline and Reflections magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.