Sabbath is Served
One of the peculiar things that has happened since I’ve been living alone, no longer married, the girls out of the house, no longer having a house-mate, is that I eat dinner alone.
Now, I like to cook. I like food. I also watch what I eat, so I’m conscious that it be healthy with very little or no meat, little fat, lots of vegetables, not too many carbs. This leads to what we used to call, in our house, Jo’s Thursday Night Salad. It’s easy and it’s good. You might want to try it. You start with some good greens—spring mix, maybe—in a large salad bowl. You slice a Belgian endive and add it to the bowl. You toast a few walnuts and break them over the greens. You get the most expensive Parmesan cheese you can afford and you cut it into little bits. Then you drizzle a generous amount of really good olive oil over it, season with the sea salt and fresh ground pepper—et voila!—you have dinner.
I’m also pretty ritualized about dinner. I sit down. I use real napkins. I drink out of a stemmed goblet because, why not?
Nevertheless, more and more I find myself doing something else during dinner. And that’s working. For example, I am writing the sermon as I eat. Asparagus with a poached egg and herbs on top. Risotto leftover from Monday’s Memorial Day dinner when I had guests in.
I am working during dinner. Because I can. I mean, if my daughters had ever brought their homework to the dinner table when they were young, I would have set them straight and made them put it away.
I work during dinner because I can. But should I?
What is Sabbath? We hear that God, upon finishing creation, rested on the seventh day. God hallowed that day as a day of rest, replenishment. So what did God do for rest and replenishment on the seventh day?
Well, we know God didn’t decide to run to Lowe’s for some garden gloves and day lilies She could plant. We know God didn’t put on Her yoga duds and go to the hot studio to sweat out the toxins. There weren’t any Lowe’s or Home Depots back then. Or garden gloves.
We know God didn’t go to the game since there were no ball clubs for Him to go to back then, no Little League, even. Adam hadn’t even had those charming tykes, Cain and Abel yet, with which to start a league.
So what did God do for rest and replenishment on that holy Sabbath?
Apparently Sabbaths have caused trouble from the start. In Deuteronomy we learn that Sabbath wasn’t just for the rich folks, but for the slaves, even! And for the migrant workers! And the foreigners who were in the land. Sabbath was a way to make sure that all were cared for at some basic level, whether the ruling party deemed them worthy of not. The Hebrew scripture was clear: Sabbath as a means of promoting well-being was both a basic human right as well as the law through which one honored God.
Fast forward a few thousand years and look at the trouble Jesus and his disciples got into on the Sabbath. Apparently his disciples were hungry and kind of grazing along in the field as they went—in effect working, not resting. And then, back at the synagogue, right under the noses of the Pharisees, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand.
So what does Sabbath mean? In the Deuteronomic passage, it seems that all should rest but in Mark’s gospel, Jesus seems to be saying helping people is, in itself, a Sabbath observance. Which interpretation of Sabbath observance is correct? And which should we follow? Sitting in the backyard with our feet up and a glass of lemonade hard by? Or doing good deeds for others while the weeds grow in our untended gardens?
But those questions beg the bigger question: what does it mean to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy? Is the third commandment even important?
Well, yeah, it is. But in order to be guided by it, we need to be intentional about what Sabbath means for each of us, yes. But also for others.
I think Sabbath is about making our time holy as a way to honor the divine among us, whether that means boldly restoring the man’s withered hands or ensuring that all—regardless of stature or social distinction—are given the opportunity for replenishment and rest. These are actions that hallow and redeem time. And point to resurrection within our midst.
Foretastes of resurrection cannot wait. They extend the sabbath’s joy and freedom to all aspects of life.
So let’s get back to dinner, my dinner, the one I was eating when I started the sermon. I stopped. I stopped writing the sermon. I hit the “save” button. I felt like a total hypocrite writing about taking time to hallow time as a way to observe Sabbath while simultaneously writing a sermon for my parishioners. I wasn’t hallowing time at all! I was simply multi-tasking—and rationalizing it: I had a lot to do on Friday—and Friday is supposed to be my day off and I didn’t get to take last Friday off! Plus, I had to get ready to go to the annual church convention, pack and organize, finalize dog care, get my summer tires into the back of the car so I could drop them off at the garage. Yes, I wanted to get that sermon done! Sheesh!
Sheesh is right. But we are each called to hallow our time so that we are not merely task-driven zombies checking things off of our to-do list (Um, that would be me!), but faithful children of creation attuned to what good deeds we need to do, what time we need to take for replenishment and how we can best serve those around us who, themselves, need Sabbath refreshment.
So I stopped writing the sermon. And I savored that spring-fresh asparagus, that perfectly re-heated risotto! And look, the sermon got done anyway. Because it is a divine thing to have the gift of time on earth. And it is an honor and a calling to hallow it.