Sabbath as a gift

The Archbishop of York recently shared that Sabbath – a day of rest – was a gift to humanity in the act of creation: a gift so important, that when we ignored it, it became a commandment, and that if it continues to be ignored, the gift will be taken away. Then creation will gets its own Sabbath in our absence. This story unfolds from the books of Genesis, through Exodus and into Leviticus.

Jesus was Jewish, and our Christian faith is the fulfilment of a Jewish expectation of deliverance and liberation in the Messiah. Christians recognise Jesus as that fulfilment. Our Jewish-faith heritage is, therefore, important. Sometimes we need to read orthodox Jewish teaching to understand the roots of our faith. In the 1950s, Abraham Heschel wrote a wonderful book about Sabbath…

When the ancient Romans met the Jewish people, and noticed their strict adherence to the law of abstaining from labour on the Sabbath, their only reaction was contempt for what looked like laziness. To justify Sabbath in these terms, is to put it in the context of relaxation: we cannot work continuously, and therefore relaxation is only useful to gain strength for new efforts. To the biblical mind however, labour is the means to an end, not the end in itself. The Sabbath, as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength, the Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. We are not beasts of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of our work, it is last act in creation: the intention the Sabbath is the end of the creation of heaven and earth. Civilization is the conquest of things and space, it is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence; namely time. In civilization we use time to gain the things of space, to enhance our power in the world. Things and space is our main objective; yet to have more, does not mean to be more. The things of space and power, terminate abruptly when we meet the end of our time. Time is the heart of existence; the goal is not to have, but to be. Not to own, but to give. Not to control, but to share. Not to subdue, but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of things and space, and the acquisition of power become our sole concern.

Sometimes, we can hear Christian teaching and think, “wow, that’s clever”, or “I never realised”… and yet the teaching remains on the surface and makes no difference in our lives. I share this Sabbath teaching because I think it is important. Jesus said, “Come to me all who work hard and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” This is good news. Perhaps it is time we took it seriously and re-learned the gift of Sabbath.

Every blessing,