“What makes a Sabbath a biblical Sabbath is that it is ‘holy to the lord.’
The most significant difference between a biblical Sabbath and a traditional “day off” is the focus on God. This doesn’t mean that we have to spend the entire day praying or studying the Bible, but it does invite us to be intentional about contemplating the love and glory of God.
Poet and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins once wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
Psalm 19 puts it this way:
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
It rises at one end of the heavens
and makes its circuit to the other;
nothing is deprived of its warmth.”
(Psalms 19:1–6 NIV)
Tomorrow we officially end our “Sanctuary Sabbath Month.” In some ways, that means rhythms will return to some degree of normalcy. But my hope is that we take what we have learned and experienced about Sabbath this month and incorporate it into our weekly schedules for the rest of the year.
“Unless one learns how to relish the taste of Sabbath while still in this world, unless one is initiated in the appreciation of eternal life, one will be unable to enjoy the taste of eternity in the world to come…. The essence of the world to come is Sabbath eternal, and the seventh day in time is an example of eternity.”
Hebrews 4:9-11 says:
“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest...” (NIV11)
The idea of Sabbath is introduced in Genesis 2 and the theme continues to be address throughout the Scriptures, all the way to Revelation. "Honoring the Sabbath" is included as one of the Ten Commandments, alongside worshiping God alone and not murdering people. But few Christians make the practice of Sabbath (a 24 hour period of rest and worship) a key part of their lives.
The truth of Rabbi Heschel’s statement above is important for us to contemplate. Sabbath is not merely about taking a day off so that we don’t get too tired. It’s about practicing for eternity. The author of Hebrews' description of “a Sabbath-rest for the people of God” makes it clear that our practice of Sabbath today is directly connected to our eternal practice of Sabbath-rest in the next life. If we don't learn how to enjoy resting in this life, we may have difficulty resting in the next one.
In his book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, author and pastor Peter Scazzero describes four foundational characteristics of a healthy and biblical Sabbath:
In August’s weekly emails/blog posts, we’ll be exploring each of these four Sabbath practices in turn and looking at how we might grow in our practice of Sabbath, both individually and corporately.
I hope that you’ll take some time this month to slow down, to stop working, to rest, to delight, and to contemplate God. Sabbath is a gift that God has given to us, and we invariably suffer when we reject the gift. When we practice Sabbath, we rejoice in the reality that in Jesus Christ, eternity has entered our present experience.