It is popular in Christian circles to talk about taking a Sabbath. I hear my preacher friends say it all the time. I see it in articles directed a Christians and notice the phrase spreading out across all the followers of Jesus.
Every time I hear someone say this or read it in print, the hair on the back of my neck stands up. There is this uneasy, almost angry feeling that grabs my soul when people express this thought. What they are trying to say is, “You need to take a day off work, or you need a vacation or some time to rest.” Instead of saying it that way, we try to give it a little religious dressing to avoid feeling guilt over their lack of busyness.
In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was not taking a day off so you could mow the grass, go to the lake or watch sports. The Sabbath started at sundown on Friday. The family would go to the synagogue and spend some time listening to the words of scripture, having them explained, praying, and possibly singing. Then you went home and rested. Until sunset on Saturday evening, you and your family did absolutely nothing. I mean nothing. Zilch. Nothing. Nada.
The Pharisees of Jesus day had created oral traditions surrounding what it meant to do nothing. That is one of the debates they are continually having with Jesus. He walked too far, and he healed. His followers picked and ate heads of grain. He and his followers did too much. For them, having a Sabbath meant you rested from all your work and felt no guilt about it. It was perfectly acceptable to lie around all day. Everyone was to relax, nap, talk and watch the world go by for an entire day.
Wrapped up in this practice was this vital lesson. Do you really believe God can run the world without you? Do you think he can provide you with enough food to take a day off? Do you believe that he is great enough to make your life work without your activity on this one day?
Today we think of Sabbath in terms of rest, and I know that is part of the purpose dating back to the creation story. But it is also a time of building trust, according to the Exodus story. Most people I know are happy to take a day away from paid work, but God does not factor into it. A true Sabbath is about resting safely in the arms of God.