In the Bible, the issue of the Sabbath is a big one. There is, of course, the commandment to observe the sabbath and keep it holy, which is one of the Big Ten (commandments, that is, not football). For the Hebrew Scriptures, the sabbath lasts from sundown on Friday evening to sundown on Saturday evening, and there is a long history — both within the Bible and in rabbinical literature after the Bible — about what it means to keep the sabbath holy, and what can and can’t be done during the sabbath period.
By the time of Jesus, prevailing understandings about what it meant to keep the sabbath were often difficult for the average person to observe. One of Jesus’ criticisms of the Judaism of his time was that legalism often triumphed over compassion and basic human needs, and in relation to the keeping of the sabbath, Jesus famously said that the sabbath was made for human beings, rather than human beings having been made for the sabbath (Mark 2:27). In other words, Jesus was saying that sabbath time was meant to serve our needs for rest, reflection, prayer and worship, and regulations about how the sabbath was to be observed needed to be made and understood from that perspective.
Americans, by and large, have trouble with sabbath-keeping. I’m not talking about the traditional sacred days of Saturday (for the Jewish people) or Sunday (for the Christians — although we do have trouble with those days, too), but about the broader idea of sabbath as a time for disengaging from our work for a while, and from much of our usual daily routine, in order to rest, recharge and reflect. And who knows: maybe pray a little bit, too. When most Americans think about sabbath time, we understand it in terms of vacation and we usually try to fill the time with as much activity as possible. So much so, in fact, that we often end up more exhausted by our vacations than we do from our normal daily life and work. Deliberately taking vacation as sabbath time doesn’t exclude activity, certainly, but is not so frenetic and allows more space for breathing room and for rest and relaxation. How do we know if our vacation has turned out to include sabbath time? If the time leaves us with a sense of refreshment and renewal rather than simply exhaustion.
This is exactly what I hope is the outcome of my vacation which begins this coming Monday (June 21). It is a great blessing to be able to take a month-long sabbath time, and I always find myself grateful for the opportunity, and grateful to the people of Trinity and my fellow clergy and staff who make it possible. I hope that a good part of this time away will indeed turn out to be sabbath time, and that I will indeed return with a sense of being refreshed and renewed. Most of you will probably be taking some vacation time this summer, and I hope that you, too, will be able to experience some of your vacation as sabbath, as a slowing down to take a breath, take stock and take care.
Jesus not only talked about the importance of the sabbath serving human needs, he also lived that in his own life. In the Gospels, we find a clear pattern in Jesus’ life of active work among people followed by time away for refreshment and renewal. Jesus knew that he needed this balance in his life – – and if he needed it, how much more do we need it, as well.
So as I take some sabbath time, the blog will take some sabbath time, as well. Barring some unforeseen moment of inspiration that demands to be blogged, the next weekly blog entry will be the week of July 19. Until then, blessings upon all you gentle readers, and may that blessing include some quality sabbath time.