Are you working long hours, food shopping for the family on your lunch break, scheduling sports and leisure activities for any free time, looking to upgrade your technology, car, life? Our culture of ‘do it now’ ‘work for more’ ‘make it better’ seems thoroughly modern, but human cultures have been here before. Remember the story of Pharaoh in the time of Moses, he was always needing things to be bigger and better. This included more and more bricks, produced by Hebrew slaves, without being given straw, without having any rest. That pharaoh had an insatiable appetite, his life and culture were defined by endless consumption and production.
In this situation, God intervened, freed the people from slavery, gave them bread sufficient for the day, and amongst other commandments, gave them the Sabbath law. As Brueggemann highlights, God’s rule is in contrast to Pharaoh’s rule because it includes rest and the rejection of always seeking more, it consciously breaks with the system of production and coercion.
So back to our times. A Christian family in America kept a record of their own experiment with Sabbath observance published in a book named ‘Sabbath in the Suburbs’. They asked and sought to answer lots of questions during the year including ‘what is rest and what is work?’ Admittedly these are complicated questions for parents of three children under eight years old. They found that a key to responding to these questions was to seek to embrace the concept of Sabbath so that keeping it was an imaginative exercise not a technical one. As MaryAnn McKibben Dana writes
Sabbath isn’t really about rest and rejuvenation at its core. That’s sometimes a by product but not the primary purpose. The primary biblical purpose as I see it is to put away the idol of control and power and a sense that we run the show. We do not.
Brueggemann highlights this point when he writes of what he has learnt from his Jewish dialogue partners. The practice of stopping for Sabbath rest reinforces awareness that life and creation is a gift of God. It is therefore a resistance of current cultural norms including the incessant desire for consumption and the restlessness that goes with this. It is resistance of the 24/7 achieving and performing in order to possess more and better things.
Sabbath is an alternative that highlights our awareness that we are on the receiving end of gifts from God. This is contrary to our societal norms thus making the keeping of Sabbath the hardest commandment. It requires that we surrender control and self importance, anxiety and coercion. It is an act of belief in a God who creates, liberates and gives, and who requires us to receive and rest.
At LCI groups Mary and Martha Meet, and Lunchtime Conversations, we have been exploring this understanding of Sabbath as resistance. Can you imagine keeping the Sabbath?