“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy…for in six days the LORD made heaven
and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day;
therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”
As in most communities of faith, children in my generation of Sunday or Sabbath School were required to memorize the 10 commandments. When I succeeded, I was given a charm bracelet with each of those commandments stamped on one of ten tiny gold-plated pages. I still have it packed away in a box. And like most children (and many adults) I believed that the 10 commandments were a list of things to avoid doing. Don’t curse, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t ignore God or disobey your parents. Even the fourth commandment seemed to me to be a rule against something. Don’t have fun on Sunday (even the grocery stores and movie theaters were closed on Sunday in our Southern town.)
It wasn’t until much, much later, when I had a full-time job and young children and no time to rest that I began to understand that sabbath time is a gift – an extraordinary and grace-filled gift of a time of rest. Sleep-deprived, overwhelmed and exhausted, I very clearly understood how a few hours of peace and quiet were both HOLY and SACRED. After all, one of the meanings of “holy” is something that is set apart, or reserved for a special purpose. Out of desperation more than piety, I began to claim sabbath-time and in doing so, found myself not only strengthened and renewed, but drawn closer to God and everyone else.
In time, I was ordained and ironically, found myself in a vocation in which taking off on Sunday is simply not an option. For me, Fridays were my day off and were designated as sabbath time — but as for most folks, a day off is not sabbath-time — it’s at best an opportunity to catch up on unfinished business. At worst, it’s a day governed by a to-do list that is much longer, and far more complicated than what any reasonable person would expect or accept. There remains little or no time to receive the gentle gifts of reflection and fellowship — of family and friends.
In the past few months as we have prepared for retirement, Will and I have been doing our very best to establish the pattern of observing Sabbath as an intentional period set aside for friends and family, reading, peace and quiet. In doing so, we have turned to the Jewish tradition of marking the time between sunset on Friday and Saturday as our day of rest. Starting with a festive meal on Friday night, we move from the work-a-day world to a twenty-four hour period of sacred time. We don’t run errands, do laundry, or clean the house. But we might tend the garden, take a picnic to the park, Skype with the grandchildren, or share a simple meal with friends.
It may seem odd that Christian clergy would observe Saturday as the Sabbath, but the Anglican tradition has always done so. In fact, The Book of Common Prayer includes this prayer for just for Saturdays,
“Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your works and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here on earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven. Amen.”
If you are Jewish or Muslim, you probably already understand the importance of a day of rest. If you are Christian, it is not too late to learn! And if you are tempted to feel guilty about what you are not “accomplishing,” remember that what you are “doing” is receiving and enjoying a gift consecrated by God and given to you as a reminder of God’s loving care.
P.S. Check out our Kitchen section for some simple recipes for your Sabbath Meal — whether you observe Sabbath on Friday, Saturday or Sunday, it’s good to begin with a home-cooked meal, shared with others and eaten in gratitude. Here is a suggestion: Rosemary Chicken