Sabbath rest. As a commandment, it’s one of the top 10. And as an invitation, it gives us a foretaste of our inheritance in the life to come.
As Marva Dawn has richly explored in her work Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, there are biblical rhythms to Sabbath: we cease from what we do the other 6 days of the week, and from the ways in which we are enslaved (to sin, to our culture, to our self-promoting value-in-productivity false self); we rest; we awake refreshed to embrace life the way it should be; we celebrate (in worship, with the people of God).
It is the second rhythm—that of resting—that is the threshold between the restrictions of having Sabbath be only about ceasing, and the delight of discovering what to embrace and celebrate. If we rest in a way that’s refreshing—in body and mind and heart and soul, in our relationship with God and with others—then Sabbath becomes for us a day of restoration to life, and to joy.
What is refreshing rest? It is that which renews us in the image of God and in which we experience and delight in something of how God intends life in his creation to be. (See Exodus 20—as image-bearers we keep Sabbath because God did; and Deuteronomy 5—we keep Sabbath because we have been set free from what enslaved us, free to return to and live into our inheritance, as the Lord invites in Deuteronomy 12:9, Lev 25, Heb 4:1.)
Refreshing rest, “renewing us in the image of God:” what restores you to your creational identity? What Sabbath activity gets you back in touch with being delighted in for who you are rather than for what you accomplish, delighted in simply as God’s beloved? What is it that when you do it, you feel God’s pleasure (to quote that great Sabbath observer, Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire)?
Refreshing rest, “in which we experience and delight in something of how God intends life in his creation to be:” This is the way the seventh day is first experienced, God looking over everything he has made, Adam and Eve at his side, and exulting “it is very good!” What an invitation to joy, and to enjoy! What Sabbath activity leads you into joy in the creation, in creativity, in beauty, in being embodied, in being in relationship? What brings deep refreshment and life to your body, to your mind, to your heart, to your soul? What restores relationships, and makes them cause for celebrating who you are?
Jesus invites, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28) Let your answers to the questions in the paragraphs above begin to shape your Sabbath observances, layer by layer. As they do so, may the Lord of the Sabbath lead you into Sabbath refreshment, renewing you in your identity as those who have been set free and in whom God delights! Live into your inheritance of joy!
Dr. Susan Currie is the Director of Selah & Associate for Spiritual Formation. In addition to directing Selah, Susan engages in spiritual formation ministries, particularly at the Pierce Center for Disciple-Building Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and in retreat leadership and spiritual companionship, with individuals, local churches, and wider church and parachurch bodies. She recently authored NPWL’s Bible Study entitled “Revelation: Awaiting the Bridegroom” (Presbyterians for Renewal, 2010). Susan and her husband, Dave, live in Hamilton, MA and are graced with three children, Catherine, Roy, and Elspeth.
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