What we steep ourselves in has such a strong yet subtle way of affecting how we think. For example, because I am a fish swimming in the water of American culture, my first thoughts when I hear the word Sabbath are orthodoxy, legalism, and ancient history. When I consider a day of rest, that can quickly feel selfish or lazy or disgustingly unproductive. I itch with the urge to go and see and do, to live life to the fullest.
But I think God has a different picture of living life to the fullest. Why does the Lord command a Sabbath day? Well, I’m sure there are manifold divine purposes to this day of rest. But as the word is handed down, God calls his people to obey in remembrance of being brought out of slavery in Egypt. Why rest? Why stop all the work we are called to, of growing and building and being fruitful? Because we can. Because God has given us that luxury in setting us free from bondage. Because the Israelites were no longer slaves, they could afford to consecrate a day to the Lord their God.
This is not a message just for the Israelites, of course. It is a grand theme of the Bible that God wants true freedom for all his children, for us to be liberated so that we may worship and glorify him as we ought. Paul says to the Galatians, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” I think this is a powerful testament to how we see redemption illustrated as an ever-widening arc. The Israelites were set free from a very physical bondage and were called to remember that on Passovers and Sabbaths. As Christians, we know an even greater freedom in baptism and entry into the body of Christ. And I think the Sabbath and Holy Communion are key to stewarding that freedom well. We are not to assume that liberty is the status quo and then use that time to carry on as usual, futilely striving to work for our worth or earn our salvation. Our freedom has been bought with the blood of Christ, and we need a Sabbath to remember that. We need a day to practice being still and silent long enough to remember that God is fully in control, to remind ourselves that our freedom is not the result of our own works.
So I think that in many ways the Sabbath is remembering what we have been freed from and then stepping back from the hustle and bustle of daily life enough to steward that freedom well. I believe we are called to rest to gain perspective that shapes the work we do for the rest of the week – if we spend a day worshiping our Lord and considering our freedom for slavery, does that not beckon us to spend the other six days of the week working for the emancipation of others? There is so much in this world that can ensnare and enslave us, but there is only one God who can break those chains. As we rejoice in the redeeming power of Christ in our lives, we should want that grace to spill over to all peoples. As we bathe in the light that is the glory of God, we should want to shine that light to all who are buried in darkness. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Let us observe the Sabbath rather than be burdened by the sin that enslaves us. Let us observe the Sabbath and then labor for the freedom of those around us, that all may come to worship at the foot of the throne of God, rejoicing in liberation from the decay of this fallen world.
image: freeimages/John Karun