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The Wisdom of Sabbath
Last weekend I had the privilege of leading a retreat for a small group of seminarians, most of whom are in their fourth semester of study at Truett. We took an evening and a day to rest, reflect, and seek renewal from God.
On Friday we shared a meal, connected with one another, and took time to reflect on the wisdom of sabbath keeping. We considered the principle of the sabbath, the discipline of the sabbath, and the wisdom of the sabbath.
In the early chapters of Genesis, we find a poetic account of God’s creation of the world. On the seventh, or sabbath day, God declares the completed work “very good,” and rests, thereby sanctifying, or making holy, the sabbath.
In the book of Exodus, Israel is commanded to honor the sabbath and to keep it, resting from their labors, remembering that God rested and declared the sabbath holy.
And again in Deuteronomy, when the sabbath command is repeated, a new gloss is found: Israel is reminded of their toil in Egypt. They are to extend a sabbath rest to people and livestock and the foreigner residing among them, for they were once enslaved, and given no rest from work. The sabbath is a reminder of God’s sanctifying glory, God’s gift of freedom, and God’s invitation to rest.
The principle of the sabbath is simple, for every six days of work, one day of rest. Conversely, you could say that for every one day of rest, six days of work. Do we work hard so that we can rest, or do we rest in God so that we can be renewed to work hard?
In the Old Testament story, the sabbath is observed on the seventh day of the week. It is the culmination of every week, an opportunity to give thanks, to revel in creation, and to worship God.
In the New Testament, Jesus is raised on the first day of the week, and Christians soon thereafter celebrated a sabbath on the day of resurrection. Each week begins with gospel testimony and the reminder that Christ has set us free, not only from a form of earthly bondage, but from the eternal bondage of sin and death.
In both the Old and New Testament, sabbath keeping requires discipline. It is an act of obedience. Honoring the sabbath is a command to keep. Having resolved to keep sabbath, observing the principle of rest in God, we designate space for sabbath. For Jews, sabbath keeping is observed from Friday evening at sundown until Saturday evening at sundown. In most, thought not all Christian settings, sabbath keeping occurs on Sundays. Worship, fellowship, and prayer may be part of that observance.
In the New Testament, sabbath keeping takes on another shade of meaning. Christians believe that Christ fulfilled the law and that Jesus himself is now our rest. In Hebrews 4, the writer claims that Jesus is greater than the sabbath. “There is a sabbath-rest for the people of God,” we’re told, “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.”
Sabbath-keeping for Christ-followers, then, is wisdom, not righteousness. We do not keep the sabbath in order to remain in good standing with God, but rather, being found in Christ, we rest from our works, and celebrate the freedom that we have already received in him. As Jesus said on the cross, his salvific work is “finished.” To rest, one day in seven, is a reminder that we have received an ultimate rest. “Cast your deadly doing down—down at Jesus’ feet;” as the old hymn says, “Stand in him, in him alone, gloriously complete.”
This discussion kicked off our retreat. On Saturday, we put these things into practice. On the grounds of Dayspring Baptist Church, we spent six hours in silence. At the end of the day, we reflected together on our experience of rest.
Ministry leaders need to be encouraged to rest. They also need to be disciplined in sabbath keeping. At Truett, we create space where this can be experienced, at least once. But we would do well, as Christian communities, if we embraced sabbath keeping as wisdom, not only for ministry leaders, but for us all, not only for those within the Christian community, but for our neighbors as well.
How do you enter the wisdom of the sabbath?
Where do you find rest?
I continue to read and enjoy Peter Brown’s Augustine of Hippo and James K. A. Smith’s latest collection of essays, The Nicene Option: An Incarnational Phenomenology. Dante’s Divine Comedy is a revelation, a true work of genius, and while much of his depiction of hell is imaginative, it is nevertheless fascinating.
The Comedy, for all its horror, is instructive, and the themes therein are manifold. Dante takes a serious look at the human condition, warns against corruption, takes seriously the justice of God, shows the dangers of vice, invites us to contemplate the power of evil, and, perhaps most powerfully, illustrates the importance of our pursuits in this life and the consequences our decisions may have for the next.
Sights and Sounds
Last week I watched The Take (2016), the documentary ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas (2019), Bright (2017), and The Old Guard (2020). I’d only recommend one of these movies. Which one? For the big reveal, I’ll link to a video.
I’m watching Dune tonight.
Thanks to my friend Geoff, I’ve been spinning some Paul Cauthen.
Before I go, standard copy.
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Be well this week. Bless others.
P.S. - An old oak on the grounds of Dayspring Baptist Church. You can see the prayer trail in the distance.