Ex. 20:8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 10 But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. 11 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.
From the top of Mount Sinai God provides the ten commandments for his people. This is a sign of God’s covenantal relationship with his people. Observation of the Sabbath was a visible witness of the commitment of the people to their God. If the Sabbath was not observed it showed disrespect for the God of the Israelites. Christ inaugurated a new covenant by way of his life, death and resurrection and the actual day of the week, Saturday, was replaced by the day of his resurrection, the Lord’s day, Sunday. The New Bible Commentary tells us, “The strict observance of the Sabbath, like circumcision, is no longer binding upon Christians.”
While this newer commentary says it is no longer binding, which may be technically true, it is still useful. It is in the older church Fathers all the way to Wesley that we read about the importance of continuing to have a time of Sabbath in our lives. Augustine says:
This third commandment imposes a regular periodical holiday—quietness of heart, tranquility of mind, the product of a good conscience. Here is sanctification, because here is the Spirit of God. Well, here is what a true holiday, that is to say, quietness and rest, means “Upon whom,” he says, “shall my spirit rest? Upon one who is humble and quiet and trembles at my words.”21 So unquiet people are those who recoil from the Holy Spirit, loving quarrels, spreading slanders, keener on argument than on truth, and so in their restlessness they do not allow the quietness of the spiritual sabbath to enter into themselves. SERMON 8.6.
Therefore, while it is no longer binding, Sabbath is necessary for our spiritual development. I love the line by Augustine that this is “sanctification, because here is the Spirit of God.” There remains a place for sabbath in the lives of God’s followers today, a slowing down that takes time to be in Christ, and only by participating in him will we discover sanctification and be transformed into God’s holy people.
I remember when I was young that we were rather legalistic about Sundays — our Sabbath. There could be no Sunday paper. Television was not to be watched on Sundays. You never went out to dinner because that would make someone else work hard on that day and you wanted them to be able to be home. Shopping was absolutely out of the question. Laundry was never to be done. It was a time to relax and rest in God’s presence and to enjoy the fellowship of the believers.
From my childhood I remember Sundays in Germany, not the legalistic part, but the part I enjoyed . They were special days in which we had a time of worship at church in the morning and then always had company for Sunday dinner. Never knowing how many people might need to be invited over to the house mom always had some extra potatoes baking in the oven. The time of fellowship and conversation around the table was stimulating.
We had the choice of going back to the English speaking service on Sunday afternoons with the American servicemen, or going to the evening German speaking service. We didn’t have to go to them all. In between the afternoon and evening service we had 4:00pm coffee hour, which was when you had dessert. It was yummy! There might be a whole different set of company over for coffee hour and again, wonderful and joyful conversation.
Often Sunday nights ended with mom playing the piano and the rest of us gathering around, either playing instruments or singing along. The “big boys” would play the trumpet and trombone and we would become caught up in the joy of praising God together as a family. It really was a marvelous time.
I’ve thought about what has happened to Sundays. Gradually we have allowed the world to creep into our Sabbath space. Chuck and I had to create our own Sabbath space on Mondays. As ministers Sundays simply became too busy and filled with the “work” of the church. It was all good stuff, but a lot of work. We had to find time to carve out space for slowing down and reflecting on the Lord. Our pace needed to be slowed and time needed to be spent in the Lord’s presence.
I return to the words of Augustine, “here is sanctification.” We all need a Sabbath in our lives if we are to be God’s holy people. Find space. Slow down. Soak in him!
Lord, please help me to carve out that quiet space of Sabbath with you. Amen.