Keeping Sabbath Like They Did in the Good Old Days
In the name of the one who offers us Sabbath rest and renewal. Amen.
Today we have another healing story from Luke's gospel. Jesus shows his depth of insight and compassion when he catches sight of the woman who was bent over, crippled for 18 years. It seems correct to infer that she couldn't see JESUS well, because she was so bent over. But Jesus saw her. And he reached out to her and healed her.
And of course there's more to the story than this. It was on the Sabbath that Jesus healed her. And it happened in a synagogue, right in front of its leader. So the conflict in the story comes from these circumstances. By healing her Jesus is doing WORK on the Sabbath, and also touching a WOMAN in the doing. Yikes! Jesus is surely breaking some rules here.
And so we're given the objection of the synagogue leader, which sounds downright pharisaical. Jesus is breaking the rules, pure and simple. But IS he?
Now, Luke presents this story of a healing that's more than a healing to teach us. First, he reminds us that Jesus has infinite compassion. That's right in line with the character of God we see presented in the chorus of our psalm--" The Lord is full of compassion and mercy, slow to anger and of great kindness." Jesus reveals to us and underlines for us the character of God, fully in line with this ancient Hebrew formula that speaks of God's true nature: Compassion, mercy, slow to anger, great kindness.
Second, Luke puts this conflict about the Sabbath in our faces, to encourage us once again to deal with nuance and shades of gray. And accepting nuance is a characteristic of a maturing faith. So let's look a little deeper.
Now, I'm going to ask you all a question. And if you know the answer, put up your hand and take a little risk. OK here it is: Where is it in the OT that God commands us to keep a Sabbath day?
[[The 10 Commandments: Exodus 20:8f: Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work . . .For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.]]
Next: What's the reason that we're asked to keep Sabbath--according to the Scriptures?
(Because God took a day of rest after the Creation; AND because it marks us as a people of the Covenant)
There are signs of the various covenants or agreements between God and God's people in OT times: Noah's covenant: rainbow. Abraham's covenant: circumcision. Sinai (Mosaic) covenant: keeping Sabbath.
You see the covenantal part in Deuteronomy, the farewell address of Moses to the people, that repeats the essential content of the 10 Commandments: Deuteronomy 5: 12--15. "Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord our God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work--you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.]
There's nothing there about the 7th day of creation, but everything about stopping work because God commands it, and because God brought out the people at the Exodus. Keeping Sabbath is a sign that you are of the people of God, following the Covenant of Moses.
So back to the story about Jesus and the sick woman in our gospel: we see that by healing her, Jesus was restoring her to full participation in the Jewish community: she was now able to keep the covenant and observe the Sabbath, in community with all the people of God, and be a sign of the covenant between God and God's people.
Healing on the Sabbath was much more important than observing a commandment about keeping Sabbath. It was a justified qualification of the Sabbath commandment, and it took precedence over the letter of the law.
For us, I think that the 4th Commandment must be the ONE commandment that is most often broken--at least in our culture. Here’s something really regrettable: Did you know that the BCP chops off the part of the commandment to REST? All it says is that we are to set aside regular times for prayer and worship. Nothing about one day a week to rest. This is so significant, I think. It's really lamentable. Maybe it reflects what's come to be known as the Protestant Work Ethic.
So---what does the commandment about Sabbath mean for 21st century people? Well, that we stop working for one day each week. That we take more time to worship and pray to God. That we take care of ourselves and give ourselves permission to rest. That we engage in some activities that enrich us--whether that's a hike in the woods or visiting with dear ones or lying in a hammock reading the Times or a good novel till we fall asleep.
Yes, we may nuance our observance of the commandment for important works of compassion now and then, as Jesus did in today’s healing story. But the commandment still stands.
But it’s really hard to stop working, isn’t it? Let's face it: we live in a culture where it seems like we need to be working most of the time just to keep our heads above water. Just to keep a hold of our jobs.
Do you know that commercial for the new phone called the Galaxy Note 7? It was playing a lot during the Olympics. That's where the French guy praises the Americans for their habits of overworking, and he sings the praises of this new phone that apparently allows us to work even harder and to multitask even more.
Well. in 30 seconds that ad says a lot about one of the reasons our culture is sick right now. We work too much. We often don't observe a full day of Sabbath. We don't know Sabbath rest, Sabbath peace.
When it’s done correctly, including prayer and rest, Sabbath is a kind of resistance to cultural expectations and cultural slave-driving for the sake of our sanity and, yes, ultimately, our productivity.
Do we have one day a week when things slow down, when we can pray more and worship well, when we can take a nap, when we give our kids the freedom THEY need from their crazy schedules? How might WE be more resolute in following this commandment, with compassion for others AND OURSELVES leading us onward?
Here’s one way to start: Go home and put your feet up.