Great news! I looked at my stats on Monday, and Sunday there were precisely ZERO views of my blog. They must have all been keeping Sabbath and avoiding the internet. Or maybe they were watching the Superbowl. Who knows?
I have long taken Sunday as a day of rest. Back in college I figured that keeping to the seven-day rhythm of work and rest was a matter of simple Christian integrity. I didn’t know much about the history of Christian Sabbath keeping, but it seemed clear that if the other Nine Commandment still mattered, this one must matter too. I knew that the biblical Sabbath Day was actually Saturday, but it seemed reasonable that if Christian worship had been moved to Sunday, the Lord’s Day, then Sabbath rest would move for Christians as well.
Beyond that, keeping regular rest helped end a terrible cycle of exhaustion and illness that plagued me for a very long time.
Giving up a day of work I gained so much more. Room for faith. Room for joy. Room for living in a healthier relationship with God and even my own body.
The Jewish way of thinking about time really helped as a university student living in a fraternity. If the Sabbath was 24 hours from sunset to sunset, I could pack in my work on Saturday at dinner time, join the gang for whatever was going on for fun in the evening, sleep in, go to worship, and do restful things all the way through Sunday dinner. Then, the Sabbath over, I could study for Monday’s test.
Imagine my surprise when I read the Heidelberg Catechism’s section on the Fourth Commandment (Q. 103)! It refers to keeping a “festive day of rest” but the only things mentioned for that day are about attending worship–that and making sure the ministry and Christian education are supported. The rest of the section is not about the seventh day of every week. It is about giving up sin every day, living into the spiritual, eternal Sabbath rest promised in Scripture.
Early on, it turns out Reformed types were not so very into Sabbath keeping. Sometimes they were more into making sure people actually focused on their vocations, getting their daily work done instead of taking too much time off celebrating all the special saints’ days of medieval Catholicism.
One century later, by the time of the Westminster Confession and the Shorter and Larger Catechisms, they had gone completely the other way. Check out this part of Question 117 from the Westminster Larger Catechism:
The Sabbath, or Lord’s Day, is to be sanctified by an holy resting all that day, not only from such works as are at all times sinful, but even from such worldly employments and recreations as are on other days lawful; and making it our delight to spend the whole time (except so much of it as is to be taken up in works of necessity and mercy) in the public and private exercise of God’s worship.
Not only no work, but no play! Nothing at all but worship on the Sabbath for the English and Scottish Presbyterians of the 17th century and a good while after. If you read 19th century English novels you can find this approach pretty thoroughly caricatured from time to time–the dour Presbyterian who makes sure nobody else has any fun either.
I’m much more impressed by the picture of the Sabbath in Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic book Sabbath:
“The Sabbath is the day on which we learn the art of surpassing civilization.”
Rather than living as slaves to individual achievement or societal demands — or the technological marvels that occupy our attention — we live fully into the life of human beings, created in the image of God. A day to rest. A day re-tuned our lives to God’s rhythms.
I think Heidelberg missed out on something genuinely important on this one. It may be implied in that little phrase “festive day of rest” but they let the implication be dwarfed by other concerns. I know I need that seven-day rhythm. I know I need that real, physical and spiritual rest.
What makes for real rest and restoration in your life?
What objections do you find to keeping a literal 1 day in 7 type of rest? And what benefits can you imagine if we all lived into it?