Monday, February 27, 2023
Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest: From Sabbath to Sabbatical and Back Again by Ruth Haley Barton
Lenten devotional by Lori Duncan
“Sabbath-keeping, and the deeper truths it represents, is a vibrant thread that begins with God in creation, is woven into the lives of God’s people immediately following their emancipation, and is then carried through the New Testament.”
“To fully understand the practice of Sabbath-keeping, we must see it as integrally connected with trust—an increasing capacity to trust God for provision in the life of God’s people (Exodus 16:23-25).”
Scripture must be allowed to reflect the culture and time in which it was written. People of the Ancient Near East (ANE) would likely have recognized Genesis 1-2 as a temple-building story. In addition to other recognizable elements of ANE temple building, Genesis reflects how the last thing to be placed into a temple was an image of the god being worshiped (Gen. 1:27), and, when completed, the god being honored would then come into the temple and take up his/her “rest” (Gen. 2:2-3). The point is that all of creation is a temple of the Living God. (For your consideration, here are some articles about a book that posits this idea.)
Ruth Haley Barton draws our attention to the idea that the seventh day is when God purposefully chose to cease from the work of creation because creation had reached its fulfillment. Within the context of the temple narrative, God could then come rest in it. And God’s ceasing of work on the seventh day was in a way itself creational: Barton quotes Rabbi Herschel (whose book Pastor Travis writes about), saying that on the seventh day “[t]ranquility, serenity, peace and repose” came into being. If that day truly does speak of God coming to dwell in the midst of the temple of God’s creation – where God and God’s Living Images could dwell together in perfect relationship – how could it be otherwise? In God’s presence is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11)!
Ruminating on this framework of creation and sabbath has led me to these thoughts; perhaps they will resonate with you: If the subsequently broken-by-sin creation has been restored in Christ, how am I called in Christ – who himself both kept and fulfilled the sabbath – to live in and from sabbath rest now (Hebrews 4)? How does my avoidance of the restoration that God gives in the practice of sabbath deny my identity as the imago Dei (the image of God), hindering my intimacy with God, and how does it deny the truth that God alone is infinite and that I am finite? (Barton says, “Our tendency to reject human limits by pretending they don’t exist or pushing beyond them in ways that are detrimental to self and others is as old as the creation narrative; to accept our finiteness and live graciously within the particularity of how we have been created is to actually honor the One who made us.”) How might the unrelenting pressure I feel to “earn my keep” (financially, spiritually, relationally, etc.) belie a lack of trust in God’s power and willingness to provide everything needed in my life and in the life of God’s people?
As we think about these and other questions regarding sabbath and our lives, let us remember that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1). Sabbath-keeping helps root us in trusting God in the midst of our created limits, freeing our hearts, souls, bodies, and minds, knowing that the Creator of everything keeps the world going while we are at rest.
Gracious God, as we wrestle with the challenges around sabbath-keeping, help us learn to walk in the fullness of the freedom you provide in Christ, including the freedom to cease from labor and to rest. We choose to honor the One who made us by trusting in you, the Infinite One who entered into creation by becoming human. It is in the name of this Son of Man—Jesus—that we pray. Amen.
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