Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.
Practicing Sabbath is a way of interrupting the relentless tapes in our heads (about how we are, for whatever reason, outside of God’s grace) and the tired narratives from our culture (you are what you do, for example). Sabbath allows us to humble ourselves into the posture of gratitude, which is the posture that begins to allow us to see the Divine. We humble ourselves into this space by saying, simply, “Jesus, how can you be this good?” How can you be so good as to include me, when there seem to be so many reasons to exclude me? How can you be so good as to love me, not based on what I produce, but for who I am? How can you be so good as to invite me to be your partner in making manifest the Reign of God for others?
Indeed, Sabbath is about entering into the fullness of God’s love, which has been extended to us in Jesus. By practicing Sabbath, we are saying, “I don’t have it all together, and there’s incredible pain in this world that I don’t understand…and, you are good and you are enough and you have rest for me, and for others through me.” Mature spirituality is always marked by this ability to hold and exist within tension, trusting that the tension resolves in the God who holds us. In practicing Sabbath, we are expanding our ability to think in both-ands, and thereby to live into the mystery of God. If we can learn to hold two realities in our hands at one time, we can grow in grace. We are beggars and we have been invited to the feast. We may not feel worthy of rest and God lavishes His rest on us, because he longs to be near us. We live in a crazy, violent, dark world andJesus wants us to delight in his goodness in the midst of it.
This is where Sabbath ultimately lead us: through the practice of Sabbath, we are led to delight. We see the passionate God whose heart is full of great joy, and we learn to delight in Him and in the world around us. Sabbath is about joy and pleasure in the heart of God.
For some of us, this is a bridge too far. It’s hard to believe that God delights in us while we have still have so much unsorted within us. Or it’s just hard to believe that God is passionate when we’ve been raised within the echoes of so much Greco-Roman philosophy, with a picture of God as stoic and unmoved.But when you read the Hebrew Scriptures and look at Jesus, what emerges is a God of such dynamic love and delight that we can drop our joy in wonder, and in hope.God delights, rejoices, and sings.He is the Great, deeply moved, Mover.
In Genesis, what does it mean that God “rested from his labor?”Did the God “who neither slumbers nor sleeps” need a nap?If not, what was happening on that very first Sabbath? Very simply, God was delighting. God beheld everything He had made, and it was good.The first Sabbath was an act of celebration. We move into Sabbath—and through Sabbath, toward The Slow Life—quite simply by doing what God did, and does. We practice being like him by practicing delight.
Sabbath, then, is not just about not working, it’s about engaging in gratefulness and celebration. When we take delight in something, we have an opportunity to discover and be surprised by the heart of the God who created joy and pleasure—nay, the God who isthe heartof joy and pleasure. In Sabbath, God’s Spirit has an opportunity to remind us that God created and redeemed us for joy and that He longs for our freedom and abundance.Jesus wants to use our practice of delight to put our curmudgeonly views of God to death (after all, these views have nothing to do with God and everything to do with our own inability to see Him as He is). As we practice delight, we will come, more and more, to understand the God of passionate love who established Sabbath as a holy day. In this sense, the practice of Sabbath is a foretaste of eternity, when we will see and know God fully as He is.
Kierkegaard, Soren. David F. Swenson, Lillian M. Swenson, and Walter Lowrie, trans. Either/or: A Fragment of Life. Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ. 1946. Page 28.
Many scholars will tell you that the church has been influenced more by Plato than it has by Jesus.
For making sense of the violent passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (The Old Testament), see Greg Boyd’s Cross Vision: How the Crucifixion of Jesus Makes Sense of Old Testament Violence. Fortress Press. Minneapolis, MN. 2017.
E.g., Zephaniah 3:17.
See, for example, Hebrews 12:2.
See, for example, I Corinthians 13:12.