“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 do no work – you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days The Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in the them, but rested the seventh day. Therefore The Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.” Exodus 20:8-11 NRSV
We have become a Sabbath-less nation; indeed we have become a Church that defies the Sabbath. It occurs to me, however, that it is not strictly about defying a direct and specific commandment of The Lord. What reaches deeper is that we deliberately decline a profound gift. Yet what we may call a Sabbath for ourselves such as in going out to eat, going to an amusement park, or doing any other thing that compels others to work, we deny them this extraordinary gift even the “livestock” are entitled to!
Some have said Sabbath will not mean the same from one to the other, while others might suggest the Sabbath does not necessarily have to be on a particular day. The Word, however, does not allow this ambiguity and, in fact, goes a little deeper when Moses again emphasizes the deeper meaning of what Sabbath is about: “The Israelites shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign forever between Me and the people of Israel …” (Exodus 31:16-17)
In other words, it is not only the means by which we are permitted (commanded) to distance ourselves from the secular world; it is entirely about reconnecting to the Divine and Eternal world which is to come. We are to “remember” the Sabbath, “keep” the Sabbath, and “observe” the Sabbath not only as a day of rest but also as the “perpetual covenant”; that is, we carve out an entire day to remember who we truly are “forever”.
Those six days are what we do, but the Sabbath Day reminds us of something much bigger and which goes much deeper: we are connecting not only to The Eternal One, we are also staying connected to our Eternity! And we know too well how easily we forget. This is why we are commanded to “remember”, then “keep”, and then “observe” in the way we order our lives on that day.
Only when we practice this absolute commandment can we ever come to fully appreciate the Gift that is within. It is not something to be taken lightly, for “whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people” (Exodus 31:14). And lest we forget, Jesus came “not to do away with The Law but to fulfill it” (Matthew 5:17) – to show us how to honor and observe and rejoice in what we’ve been given: the only real way we be constantly mindful of who we truly are beyond the grave!
Honor The Lord by “remembering”, “keeping”, and “observing” all that has been handed down to us by our faithful ancestors. It meant enough to them to do all possible to help us to remember and to stay connected. Like all commandments, it is more than an “order”; it is a Gift meant to be used and shared. When we learn to use it properly, we will learn to share it generously.