Posted: Mar 25

Sabbath Keeping - Stewardship of Time

By Catherine Waynick

waterfountain---copy.jpgI have been thinking this Lent about the stewardship of time...

- that which seems to oppose eternity and limit our understanding of a God whose love, and grace, and forgiveness are boundless. Like everything else about our lives, time is entrusted to us by God. And like everything else entrusted to us by God, time has a worth which is beyond our defining.

Among the Ten Commandments the longest deals with time.

“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 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 on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

‘To remember’ something is to make it present, in the way our Jewish brothers and sisters re-live the exodus and even today claim for themselves the deliverance effected by God when the Hebrew slaves were led by Moses out of Egypt.  This kind of remembering is what Jesus commands of his followers when we bless and share the bread of his broken body and drink the cup of the new covenant sealed in his blood.  We are not merely commemorating an historical event, but rather re-living it in the present, immersing ourselves in it, and taking all its promises to ourselves.   

Sabbath keeping, with its lengthy provisions, is not about taking time off to sleep in or do something fun.  It is about making present the moment when creation was newly completed and was ‘very good.’  It is about claiming for ourselves restored possibility, rejoicing in our partnership with God as trusted stewards of creation.

This is time set apart for God’s agenda, God’s re-creative purposes.

The land was also to have its Sabbath; every seven years the fields were to lie fallow in order not to be exhausted of their ability to yield crops. Sabbath was intended to be restorative, to return to a state of new energy and productivity, and to prevent the depletion we call “burn-out.”

Even debtors were to have new beginnings; every seventh year debts were to be forgiven, and every fifty years land was to be restored to its original owners, preventing the misfortune of one generation from being visited upon future generations indefinitely, and providing a new start for each tribe and family.

Sabbath observance was the sign of human willingness to join in God’s project of reordering and restoration...

- mandated for the benefit of all creation, and as a remembrance – a calling forward to enter into – the blessed goodness of creation at its origin.

I think of this during Lent because we are moving inexorably to the remembrance of an imposed rest.  Death, the definitive and unrelenting ‘rest’ initially imposed on all of humanity, not as a well-earned respite from honest labor, but as a result of the human desire to be like God, knowing good and evil.

It was a vain attempt, encouraged by a being (serpent? satan?) whose own knowledge of good was certainly incomplete, and who jealously recruited the favored ‘first created’ to his own low estate, deceitfully providing only a partial knowledge of the depths and consequences of evil.

I think of this during Lent because the partial knowledge of evil and good confuses us. It causes us to doubt the best and embrace the worst, which is a fairly accurate description of how humanity lived after expulsion from Eden, and of what happened when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us….

Jesus, the fullest revelation of God’s love for humanity and all creation, was not only doubted but rejected, distrusted, slandered, accused of treason and heresy, tortured, and cruelly executed.  Humanity embraced its own worst instincts, acting out of ignorance, jealousy, fear, pride, and unfaithfulness.  Jesus died on the cross and was laid in the tomb; and his closest followers had to wait until after the Sabbath to anoint his body according to the Law.

Sabbath; intended to provide rest and refreshment, forgiveness of debts, restoration of inheritances, and rejoicing in the original goodness of creation…

Our creeds proclaim that after his crucifixion Jesus ‘descended to the dead,’ or ‘into hell.’ While our creeds are silent on whether he was active in that place, tradition and our catechism say that Jesus proclaimed the Good News to those who had died, making it possible for them to join in the redemption he offers. One very striking icon depicts Jesus rising from the grave, pulling Adam and Eve with him from the pit!

Something is ‘holy’ when it has been set apart for God’s purposes.  If Jesus was busy proclaiming Good News among the dead, he was certainly addressing God’s agenda, seeing that God’s purposes were being fulfilled. He had pointedly conveyed the message that Sabbath keeping does not preclude works of mercy.

When we come to the Saturday we call ‘holy’ will we allow its significance as the threshold of a new, restored day to speak to us of the gifts of disciplined sabbath time?  

This is a stewardship issue; we do not own time, it is entrusted to us, and we must not become enslaved to it.

We are enjoined to set time apart for God’s purposes, as a reminder that all our time can be holy.  We are invited to claim the new life effected in the ‘holy rest’ of Jesus during his Sabbath in the tomb. We celebrate it as the eve of the new Day of Our Lord, the day of Resurrection, forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration. 

“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy...” 

What effect might it have in us and in the world if we were to claim and keep sabbath time? Isn’t it worth imagining?…