You would probably have guessed by now that we have been on vacation. Sorry we didn’t give a heads up. We were not even sure we were going to take one this year. We struggled with the usual constraints of time and money. We needed the rest. The last few years have been demanding and intense. The care of ageing parents and the demands of our work have seen us engaged most of the time. Yet the very reasons that necessitated a break were the same reasons that made it hard to get away. Then we heard that a friend was not well. Indeed, some other good friends also seemed to be going through difficult times. This was our tipping point. We took our Sabbath vacation so that we could spend time with them. It was good to take off our harnesses for a while. We needed the rest. We needed to be reminded that life is not just about work. It’s also about enjoying and celebrating the goodness of God.
When we got back to Singapore, I had to leave for the East Asia Graduate Conference (https://www.eagc2013.org/). Appropriately, I was taking a workshop on Sabbath. We know that originally, the Sabbath was a command for Israel. On the seventh day of the week they had to cease from their labour, to rest and to remember God. But I agree with my Regent lecturer, the late Klaus Bockmuehl, who maintains that the Sabbath is more a type of day than a particular day of the week.
First, then, what is the meaning of the word “Sabbath?” It is to begin with, not the name of one of the days of the week, like “Monday” or “Saturday” is (sic). The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew verb “to rest.” So we could very well call the Sunday, the Sabbath, the day of resting. (Klaus Bockmuehl, The Christian Way of Living [Vancouver, British Columbia: Regent College Publishing, 1994], 70.)
I believe that a rhythm of six days’ work and one day’s rest is still the divine pattern for human life. Recently Bernice and I decided to try a new Sabbath pattern. We now start our weekly Sabbath on Wednesday night. Often we would have dinner together and maybe catch a movie. If we were very tired we would just stay at home. (By the way the Jewish day started at sundown so it’s fine to start one’s Sabbath in the evening.) Thursday mornings, we usually wake up late and take a walk in places like the botanical gardens. We may choose to spend a quiet morning at home if things have been extra hectic. No hard and fast rules. Apart from our weekly Sabbath, we take extended Sabbaths like our recent holiday.
I don’t think Jesus came to introduce a new Sabbath legalism. Sabbath is a gift from God for our welfare. What are Sabbaths for? Three things at least.
First, Sabbath is for rest (Exodus 31:15). We are not machines. We were made to function best when we live by a rhythm of work and rest. Interestingly, a recent article in Inc. magazine mentions adequate rest as one of the conditions for peak productivity (https://www.inc.com/magazine/201304/issie-lapowsky/get-more-done-get-more-rest.html).
Next, Sabbath is for remembering (Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 5:15). We have short spiritual memories. In the insanely rapid pace of today’s world, we quickly forget the most fundamental truths of our lives. Carving our Sabbath space creates space to remember who God is, who I am, what I have been called to do. It is creating space to remember that God is on His throne and how history will end. And it is in remembering that hope is renewed and purpose re-embraced.
The third “R” of Sabbath is “reconnecting”. Our lives are defined by the two loves — for God and for neighbour (Mark 12:28–31). The twin loves should motivate all we do all the days of the week. But Sabbath frees up time for us to intentionally attend to our two primary relationships. Sabbath, therefore, is a time for worship, Bible study and prayer. It is a time for catching up with friends and family.
These then are the three “R’s” of Sabbath: Rest, Remember, and Reconnect. No wonder Sabbath is essential for life.
Two other workshops were running concurrently with my Sabbath workshop at the conference. Mine had the poorest attendance. I am sure there could be any number of reasons why. (And it was a good lesson in humility.) Still, I can’t help but think that many Christians do not consider Sabbath very important. Many of the participants at the conference were young professionals and perhaps they were more concerned about work than about rest at this chapter of their lives. But, as I shared at my workshop, we shouldn’t pit work against rest. The two are part of one continuum. And it is in respecting the divine rhythm that we find the shalom to finish our race.