Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your 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 them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Sometimes the most urgent and vital thing you can do is take a complete rest. Hard for some of us though. Yet a regular time of rest is there in the opening chapters in Genesis. After working for six ‘days’, God establishes a pattern of resting on the 7th building a rhythm into the DNA of creation.
All Ancient Near Eastern cultures held customs of keeping rest days. But for the Israelites, sabbath rest took on special meaning not because of its regularity or various prohibitions, but in the fact that the day is made holy because of its relationship to God: God stopped, then he was able to make a covenant with his people.
In Exodus, God calls his people to observe not just remember the sabbath: a day for everyone and not just for one day a week: every seven years, land is rested … debts are forgiven… slaves go free…Sabbath, then, is about an entire way of life. If you don’t learn how to rest well, you will never learn how to work well (and vice versa). Work and rest (not sleep) live in symbiotic relationship.
Sabbath is not a day off to do housework or go to Ikea. Sabbath (shabbat) means ‘stop’, ‘cease’, ‘be complete’. It needs to be held alongside another word for rest (nuakh), a time to be restfully present in God’s presence. God calls us back into this rhythm of grace from the busyness of our digital lives, to reflect on the work of the last six days, and just enjoy. Jews have been practising Sabbath for millenia. They talk about ‘menuha’ (another word for ‘rest’) often translated as happiness or delight. As you keep the Sabbath, delight in the life you have in partnership with God, delight in the world around you, and delight in God himself. That is what the Sabbath is for. Such is the beauty of rest.
Be still and know that I am God…
Be still and know…
The Rev’d Nicola Furley-Smith, Secretary for Ministries