How to frame our week, should normal life ever return.
Hi folks, So it’s Friday. That may come as news to some of you! One of the effects of lockdown is that we can so easily lose the passage of time. Only last week, in fact, I went round on Monday thinking it was Tuesday, even to the extent of trying to enter a Zoom meeting 24 hours too early and then wondering why the neighbours hadn’t put their bins out for collection. For many of us, the daily routine has been upended. The familiar markers have been moved while online activity, although invaluable, does not register in the same way. However, the return for our schools does now delineate the weekend if only in traffic flow. As human beings we need markers, routines to delineate our days, weeks, months, years – even our decades as we observed with last Sunday’s census. They may appear a nuisance, an unwelcome interruption, but wholly necessary for our health, not just as individuals but as a community. This was certainly the case for the people of the Bible. Jesus knew a regular routine, especially the three festivals each year with the Passover as the main festival taking several days. Of course, an important driver were the agricultural seasons which overarched daily activity with the harvests for wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and honey – the crops mentioned in Deuteronomy 8:8. However, there is one marker which for the people of Israel was supreme: the Sabbath. And it still is – as seen by our weekly bin collection. That we follow a seven day week would seem to be a fundamental, even hard-wired into our brains. Our planet’s rotation gives us the day but the seven day week, where does that come from? It is the Babylonians who should take the credit for the seven day week, though it may originate even further back in time to an Akkadian civilisation. Why seven days? No one is quite sure why; it’s complicated but something to do with the lunar cycle. However, it was the people of Israel who gave an extra spin to the seven day week by giving huge significance to the seventh day, the Sabbath. As you know, it makes its way into the Ten Commandments, “to remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy". (Deuteronomy 5:12) I’m no expert in this field but it seems that it was only the Jewish people who gave such prominence to the Sabbath, defined by sunset to sunset. Even as the Bible begins with God’s creation, in six days. “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:3). One story from the Old Testament epitomises how important keeping the Sabbath is for the people of God. As they flee Egypt, there seemed no way God could keep his promise and provide food in the wasteland of the desert. But each morning manna (i.e. what’s this?) appears, “thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor.” (Exodus 16:14) Highly perishable, it had to be eaten within the day, Except on the sixth day when strangely it could be stored for the following morning. Moses explains: “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of sabbath rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord.’” (Exodus 16:23) The Sabbath became integral for Jewish identity, a boundary marker to show who’s in and who’s out. If you were Jewish, you kept the Sabbath, period. The ever-present danger was to slip into legalism and so prophet after prophet brought their people back to right motive, “Blessed is the one who does this— the person who holds it fast, who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.” (Isaiah 56:2) Jesus was frequently challenged for his understanding of the Sabbath as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. Addressing the Pharisees he taught: ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27). As ever his resurrection victory upends everything, including a millennium of keeping the Sabbath on the seventh day. For now his church has effectively moved the Sabbath to the first day of the week, as Luke reflects on his visit to Troas with the apostle Paul: “On the first day of the week we came together to break bread.” (Acts 20:7). And today we too live with the tension of honouring God by the way we demarcate our week while avoiding the temptations of legalism. It is only in the last few decades that the Sabbath has been abandoned by our society as Sunday has become a day for sport rather than church. Even so I still feel vaguely guilty when I go shopping on Sunday – even though as a child I found Sundays joyless and boring. Our experience of the pandemic has shown our consumerist society to be unrelenting in its demands on our time. How often do we need to pause and to pause at the same time as each other. We need a rhythm to our lives, one which honour God and encourages each other. How are we called to keep Sunday’s special so as to honour God and care for each other, especially the vulnerable? This is a challenge for us all, when to adapt to and when to challenge our society’s routines and habits. How are we to live together once everyday life resumes? As Eugene Peterson, who gave us the Message translation observed “If you keep the Sabbath, you start to see creation not as somewhere to get away from your ordinary life, but a place to frame an attentiveness to your life.” #Sunday #sabbath #routine