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.