“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” Exodus 20:8
More from the Big Ten (not talking college football). God tells Moses, and essentially his whole people, that the sabbath day isn’t insignificant or just a passing fad, but to be kept and kept holy. Now, if sabbath is completely unfamiliar to you, or if you’ve heard about it plenty but still have no real idea, then maybe you’re in the exact spot that God’s people found themselves on the day God said these words to Moses. Up to this point, the Old Testament has only mentioned sabbath once, and just a moment ago in terms of their story. At this point for the Israelites, the comforts of civilized Egypt are behind them and there’s no return. They’re not used to the wilderness, they grumble and fear starvation, so remember God sends them manna (wafer-like food) and quail (the little birds, duh) to live off of. These things appear as if from nowhere, and the people are to gather what they need. Except. Except on the seventh day of the week. God says in Exodus 16 for them to gather double as much on Friday, so that they do no work and rest on Saturday.
So, it’s a day that sets these people apart from everyone else on earth. The ancient world was a cut-throat place to live; and if nowadays we try to get an edge on one another, and other cultures, imagine back then. The idea that once a week there would be no work probably seemed reckless, foolhardy, and life-threatening. But it was a statement of trust in God’s provision, remembering God’s deliverance from slavery, and setting the new tone for a freed people. Here in Exodus 20, just a short while later, God tells Moses on the mountain that the sabbath isn’t just a break while the people are out in the desert; it’s going to be part of the backbone of their culture that they carry on to the land where they settle.
Knowing how important it is to God, and what it stands for, do you observe sabbath? How? Truly, how? By celebrating the “Lord’s Day” on Sunday? Is it just for part of a morning each week, in a wooden pew or fabric-covered chair in hour-long worship? Does it involve Saturday, or the rest of the week? Does it involve true rest, and a re-centering of self on the one good source of our life – the Lord of heaven and earth? God called sabbath holy, and Jesus reinforced that in his time. Not a light option for semi-religious people.
Practically, sabbath says that we will not be consumed with work or getting ahead or personal success every minute of every hour, even every day of every week. During our sabbath, parts of Culture will say: “Hey, Christians, what are you a bunch of hippies? Really? Do-nothings? I’ve got things for you to accomplish today. You’ve got things you never get to do the rest of the week, and today is your day to do them.” Culture will tell you, and make you feel like, you’re being this guy:
(No, that’s not Jesus and, no, I do not endorse the lifestyle or general persona of “the Dude”). But sabbath isn’t about slackness. It isn’t about efficiency or “maximizing” the use of our time.
It’s about maximizing our hearts in the Lord; being spiritually efficient I guess, which has nothing to do with being at our fastest, easiest, or cheapest. Sabbath can mean specific practices that humble ourselves and re-orient us to God. At this point, Culture will say: “Why so serious? Why so overzealous?. This isn’t the 15th century, and you’re not a monk or nun, and anybody with any good sense is over that superstitious mumbo-jumbo. You’re really going to spend a minute, even a couple of hours, even the whole day, focusing on your ‘God’?” That kind of concrete commitment will have Culture labeling you something like these loo-loos:
But you can always tell Culture to go somewhere. Culture, and its representatives, know good and well that they worship things in their own way, with greater fervor than many people of faith. Culture does its share of looking foolish. But we have to be able to withstand the critical eye/voice of others. As church-going becomes less and less a “given”, more and more we will come into contact with this pressure to just not be involved, or to not be committed to faith, so that we can avoid feeling like we look awkward or ignorant observing some strange religious ritual.
Don’t let sabbath be a strange, misunderstood, even empty ritual. Don’t let it be a half-arsed effort or a human-made observance. Let it be the holy sabbath that God has created as a gift to God’s freed people. Let it be culturally illogical, sometimes risky, and certainly irrational when you think about everything you have to do or want to do in a week. Let it be our statement that we will not survive by our own power alone, and we know it. Keep sabbath, for God’s glory.