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?
Don’t forget that some of us read your blogs on the sly via RSS….. 🙂
Gary Neal Hansen says
Jana, I’m glad to have you here any way you are willing to find my blog!
(But it is so much more fun to have a way to KNOW that you are here…)
Any problem setting up the RSS to the new URL?
There is no RSS button or evident feed, but I was able to import it into my reader – so I won’t miss a post!
Gary Neal Hansen says
I’ve added an RSS widget!
That’s great! Thanks for appeasing those of us who rely upon readers!
Jody Mask says
I’m thinking about the PC(USA) Directory for Worship’s phrase “all time has been hallowed by God.” As a distance student, finding an entire day to keep sabbath has been next to impossible. But maybe we should reconsider what is “work” and what is not. Dr. Vander Broek talks about “the leisure of study” and there is a large element of truth there, even if we see it as work. And the business of pastoring is work too–or is it? Perhaps how we view our activity has as much to say about the matter. Is it work if it feels laborious? Is it leisure if doing nothing makes you anxious about things you should be doing? All time is hallowed by God–do we hallow our time as well, and see it as an offering to God?
Gary Neal Hansen says
Hey, Jody, good to hear from you.
I think you name a very important point — being a distance student with all the complications of other work makes Sabbath a very challenging practice. Same goes for the massive number of people who are working multiple jobs to make ends meet.
And figuring out what exactly “work” and “rest” are points the way I think. This has certainly occupied a good deal of rabbinic ink over the ages–a very interesting discussion that can prompt good discernment even as a Christian finds other kinds of issues applying.
All time is hallowed, but is it all hallowed the same way? I don’t think so. I think we still need the cycle of work and rest that Scriptures shows is God’s own cycle in both creation (Genesis) and redemption (Exodus).
Heschel’s book is a true treasure, and worth taking a slow leisurely read through–like in whatever Sabbath time you start trying to eke out. He completely reframes the idea and you’ll find yourself longing and eager to make Sabbath the key time of your week.
Have you taken a look at MaryAnn McKibben-Dana’s book on Sabbath keeping? Great stuff and a fun read. Especially thinking about what that looks like with a family in our wacky running like chicken with no heads culture. http://www.amazon.com/Sabbath-Suburbs-Familys-Experiment-Project/dp/0827235216
Gary Neal Hansen says
Hey, Laura, sorry for the delay in replying. I’ve not seen that book — sounds like a good one. Do you know Marva Dawn’s “Keeping the Sabbath Wholly”?
Joe Pruett says
I like the idea of our defining the work and fun part and resting from our labors. I think that living each day to please God is a chief end for all of us and that we also have to recognize that we will fall short no matter how hard we try. I do like though the idea of resting on the sabbath and finding a place of peace in our lives.