At the age of fifteen, I received a work permit and began applying for various part-time jobs in the small city where I lived. With every potential opportunity, I could taste freedom. There was one section, however, on each job application that seemed to mock me. “Are you available on weekends?” the form asked. Since I had grown up with a strong sense of commitment to church as a part of my Christian faith, I had a hard time reconciling a job that would schedule me to work on Sunday, the day I set aside to attend church with my family. Although I was flat out turned down from some opportunities for that reason alone, I made a decision that day to take the fourth commandment seriously and apply it to my life the best way I could.
Remember the sabbath day, for it is holy. The laws that Moses brought down the mountain in Exodus chapter 20, offered a collection of commandments that promised the people of Israel, a newly formed nation, a prosperous and sound future. The fourth commandment describes a way of living life. The verses following the direct command read six days you will serve, and do all your work. But the seventh day is the sabbath for Yahweh, your God; you will not do any work, you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the stranger who is within your gates. For in six days Yahweh made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but he rested the seventh day; and so Yahweh blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. The sabbath day was a celebration of rest, of appreciation. A day is not a long time to stop and admire the work of the week, but it is sufficient as a regular practice to recognize your work and thank your friends and family for serving to provide for your community. And, after all, if God stopped to reflect on work completed, shouldn’t God’s people also follow?
The ancient people who were traveling in the desert with Moses, knew what it was to work. They had been slaves to a great power who considered himself a supreme god, the Pharaoh of Egypt. Now they were traversing across the desert, following Moses, who was following the God who had saved them. The nation of Israel knew only one kind of life, to labor under a greater power. But the commandments presented to them offered a new way of life that prioritized a thriving community. Every seventh day, the people would put aside all their work, for themselves and for others, so that they would rest. In this time, they would not have, as we often do, remained in secluded homes, flipping on the television or curling up with a good book. A day of rest meant another day outside the family tent, the sun shining brightly and multiple generations of family and friends crowded around. On the sabbath day, when no one worked, the people would have to interact socially. And, as they followed God’s instruction for their life, they would create a sense of community in their interactions. They would play and tell stories and enjoy the leisure of the day with each other. Then, on the next day, they would work hard, toiling again for six days until the sabbath day came and gave them the opportunity to interact and rest with their family and friends.
To celebrate the sabbath day is more than obliging oneself to fit in a Christian activity. To celebrate the sabbath day is to stop—pause and take inventory of what we have accomplished, of what we have created, and to notice the people around us.
In today’s world, we understand the importance of rest and leisure. We know that cultures who have made time for leisure have advanced technologically and socially. There are movements to slow down the daily grind of full time work and call on people to rest. The need for rest is not a new or modern development. Ancient traditions have long preached the dangers of slaving all hours of all days, and this is not news to Christians.
Fifty years ago, you might have walked into a small town on Sunday and found no business open, except a church where Christians gathered to celebrate the sabbath day. The scene: quiet streets, very few cars, perhaps sounds of laughter and camaraderie coming from a backyard or a church patio. Now Christians have many more options: one may participate in a ‘sabbath day’ ceremony simply by putting on a pair of headphones and downloading a sermon from iTunes. Gigantic churches stream sermons via Internet to cover large distances. You can send offerings online and squeeze a ‘sabbath’ into your work week. But this misses the intention of God’s commandment and compromises the benefit. Instead, we should practice community. To celebrate the sabbath day is more than obliging oneself to fit in a Christian activity. To celebrate the sabbath day is to stop—pause and take inventory of what we have accomplished, of what we have created, and to notice the people around us.
I urge you to find a church that is committed to leisure, restful communion with others who believe like you. It is a difficult task, when towns no longer shut down for a sabbath day. But, enhance the community of believers by encouraging this kind of sabbath day, a time of rest together.