Saturday, February 16, 2008

On the Seventh Day: Bless You

Thus the heavens and the earth / and all the host of them / were finished / and on the seventh day God ended His work / which He had done / and He rested on the seventh day from all His work / which He had done / Then God blessed the seventh day / and sanctified it / because in it He rested / from all His work / which God had created and made.

Suddenly we have a lot of words to say (and repeat) that after six days God was done and He rested. Just like He set limits on the extent of the oceans earlier in the week, here God sets limits on Himself, and calls us to follow suit.

Most Sabbath sermons make the valid point that we should do less, turn things off, spend time with the family. What's ironic is these injuctions by definition are coming from someone who is, in fact, working and earning a paycheck by telling you to rest. As a family member of someone who's paid by the church (if only part-time), I've thought about the concept of the "mobile Sabbath" a bit. Maybe we Protestants could turn Saturday back into a work Sabbath and Sunday into a worship Sabbath?

To extend on the point that body, soul, and spirit are intertwined, I'd like to recall a quote from Oswald Chambers who says that waiting, worship, and work are intertwined. The categories are fluid and when worship and work are combined, we have to make room for rest in other ways. Being able to rest means you can give to others, which recalls another old saying, that "The seventh day receives from all others, blesses all others." It's a good thing to rest.
It's hard to rest when voices tell you that you should be making proteins right now, or reading papers right now, or working on lesson plans right now. It's hard to work ahead so that you can rest and aren't scrambling to do those things at the last minute. But it is a blessing when you do.
There is one way in which we get Sabbath wrong. In Jesus' time (and remember, this is when certain political factions got really bent out of shape if you didn't keep the Sabbath right), they actually did MORE on the Sabbath in one area than we do. They wouldn't cook or walk too far or heal somebody, but they would use the time to study Torah. They would read it as a family, memorize it on their own, argue its interpretation, all sorts of things that we would consider work but they would say "It's what the Sabbath is for."
So if they considered it appropriate for the Sabbath, why don't we? A lot of churches are toning down classes and education on Sundays because it cuts into family time. But the Sabbath is for study, resting and learning about God at the same time. Churches who cut back on Sunday School so that people can spend more time with their families are actually not following a Biblical or historical model. It may sound good, but it's along the lines of "Why are you spilling all that perfume on the floor? You could sell it and give the money to the poor!" One way or the other, we need to make time to learn as a family on the Sabbath.
And of course to make time for the divinely ordained New York Times Crossword Puzzle. Although that may provoke as many curses as it does blessings.

As we study we tell each other a story that continues for another 1188 chapters, of how this good creation was pretty much immediately marred by a choice made by a brand-new man and woman. This curse extended through all creation, who knows, maybe even through all time. Judgment of complete destruction couldn't work. Within a few chapters we zoom in on one old man whose father recently died, who's told to move everything and does. He's told to give up his son and does, then is stopped at the last minute. He has decendents who move to Egypt, become enslaved, and are brought out of Egypt by a series of extraordinary events. They take over a land and set up kings, but they keep worshipping the wrong things and eventually their small nation is piecemeal destroyed. Somehow it survives as an alien religion in a foreign land, mocked but growing. Prophets tell the kings and the exiles that one day God will make it right. They get relocated back to their old land, but are always under the thumb of someone: first Babylonians, then Greeks, then Romans. They even have a king but a king that is more "visitors team" than "home team." Through this time they wait for independence, trying from time to time to force it and always getting crushed back by Roman efficiency and ruthlessness.
Then a star appears. A teacher who insists on refusing to fight nonetheless stands up to the Romans. He stands up to everyone in power. And he gets killed for it in typical Roman fashion. Then he is laid in a tomb.
And on Saturday, the seventh day of the week, his body rests in the darkness of the grave, like a spirit hovering over the surface of waters.
It was evening, and it was morning. The seventh day was done.

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