Keeping the Sabbath in a world that never rests

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20, 8-11)

Remember the Sabbath day, keep it holy. This is a commandment, among the ten, that a hundred years ago many had to learn by heart especially in the Nordic context. That is not the case anymore. But the contents of the commandments are still important.

But how often do we stress the commandment to rest or to keep the Sabbath holy in our time? Can we put forward the commandment of rest and keep the creation holy without moralising over those who can’t keep the commandment because of the structures of their society?

It may be that the commandment has been used to keep people from doing things more than to protect humanity and the earth. But Jesus’ words in Mark 2,27: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” are important for the understanding of the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy and to rest. The words of Jesus can be interpreted today as meaning that the Sabbath was made for all of creation.

Today we no longer criticize those who want to be active and work every day of the week. The objection against a Sabbath, a holy day, a day of rest, is for economic reasons: nothing is to restrain the exponential economic growth which is often described by the word “development”.

Today no one criticises those who want to be active and work every day of the week. Quite the opposite, they are often admired and looked upon as heroes.

The efficient and effective organisation of the global society today never has time to rest. There is no place for a Sabbath to be kept holy. In the new world of globalisation should everyone be on-line? Those who are on-line never rest. In the new world of globalisation the pursuit of money never ceases. The monetary system works aroaund the clock, always with the focus on increase of growth.

Growth always has to increase, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is the measure of success. The GDP has become our security. But the GDP cannot measure our happiness, GDP cannot measure the health of the earth, GDP cannot measure the justice or the distribution of the gifts of the earth.

Who can, in this time, claim the importance of Sabbath and a holy day for rest? Is it meaningful to speak about a holy day for humanity and for the creation? Is there any sense in recognising Gods’ creation or keeping the Sabbath as a way to recognise that it is made out of the love of God? It may look odd to do this today.

Maybe we do not want to hear about the Sabbath because it may be an obstacle for our own vain struggles for success. The everlasting strive after more, a strive that deafens the unsatisfied inner self.

But the commandment of Sabbath is about recovery, the rhythm of the creation and the holiness of the creation.

Recovery. All life needs recovery. All human beings need oxygen to breath, water and food to function and last but not least, they need to rest. Without rest a human cannot live. Rest brings physical recovery. If humankind does not rest it will not survive. Rest is a kind of precondition for life.

But in this rest there is also room for reflection. Reflection over what has happened around us, an opportunity to ask the questions; Who am I? Where am I going? Where do I come from?

Many people in Europe live in towns. Large or small towns. In nearly all towns there is a lot of light during night times. Streets and squares are filled with light from street lights and advertising signs. This electronic enlightenment has nothing to do with the spiritual dimension of enlightenment; rather it is the opposite. This “enlightened towns” problem is not only about energy. The biggest problem is that people living in these towns never can see the starry sky. Those who stand under the starry sky and look out into the cosmos are easily able to ask the questions; Who am I? Where do I come from? Where are we going? To stand under the starry sky and reflect upon life is to recover.

Abraham stood under the stars in the dark of the night and was in some way offered recovery and time for reflection over where the promise of God had brought him. In some way we need the time for rest and reflection and recovery just as Abraham. We need the starry sky to wonder over life, we need the starry sky that gives us time for reflection, for recovery.

The rhythm of creation. There is a rhythm in creation. The rhythm is marked by day and night. Every 24 hours we have space for work, rest and reflection. The day is for work and the night is for recovery. But one day is marked as the day for rest, a holy day. The day of rest is for all of creation. The 24-hour cycle has a rhythm and the seven days also have a rhythm.

A rhythm is inherent in each year. Especially in the Nordic perspective, the rhythm of the seasons is important. The spring is the time for creation to awaken and the life of creation is returning. Summer is the time of beauty and the warmth of the sun. The autumn is the time of all the different colours when the creation is preparing for the rest and the cold winter when the life of nature will be damped down awaiting the sun to start warming the ground again.

In the biblical perspective the years also have a given rhythm. In the Old Testament the seventh year was the free- year for the land to rest. There were also a rhythm of reconciliation and justice that meant that every 49 years debts should be cancelled. A state of equilibrium should be made, shalom, peace should be restored.

There is a rhythm in the creation that point towards shalom, a state of equilibrium. We can also see that in the parable of the grain of wheat. In John 12,24 it says “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit”. This is the precondition of life. Creation has a pattern; a rhythm that says that life goes through death to life. It is a rhythm of labour and rest, of growth and decomposition, darkness and light. The mystic of the grain is great.

Holy. In the commandment there is also an explanation or a motivation as to why this commandment is given. To keep the Sabbath holy is to give you recovery. But not only for yourself. For everyone, for the family, for the workers and for the most vulnerable. For everyone recovery is holy.

But this is not only for humans. The animals are included. And if we read Leviticus 3:25,2-4 it is clear that also the lands have their right to rest, to recover. All life is in need of recovery and reconciliation. Rest is holy.

The problem today is that humanity and the land do not rest, do not get the chance to recover.

The creation is wholeness were all life has a rhythm that is based on labour and rest, to give out and to receive, to be awake and to sleep. There is a rhythm in the wheat grain; to grow, to give new grains and to fall into the soil, and wait for its time to give life again. The Sabbath is for the protection of life, to shield the holiness of life.

Can we seriously claim the commandment of the Sabbath today? Can we really talk about the importance of rest when the world is facing so many threats? Climate changes that threaten the most vulnerable in the world today. Climate changes that threaten extinct plants and animals. Can we seriously talk about a holy day when the world is in need of action?

Yes, more then ever we need to claim the Sabbath. Humanity and creation need it. The most vulnerable need to keep a day holy for recovery, and reconciliation.

Henrik Grape