“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 Sovereign One, your God; . . . . For in six days God made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the God blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”
Sabbath has been a precious experience in my life. I have been blessed to enjoy a rhythm to my life that has balanced times of intense work with times of rest, refreshment and renewal. I have tried to live with a sabbath perspective on my farm too, giving all of my animals and the land itself times of rest and renewal. I don’t ask my chickens to lay eggs all year round by putting a light in the henhouse to fool them into thinking it’s always summer. I don’t ask my sheep to produce lambs when they are too young or too old. I don’t even ask my dogs to work around the clock, even though in their enthusiasm they would probably be willing.
Some have suggested that this global pandemic is a time of sabbath. My sabbaths have always been “optional,” though, and of my own choosing. With the rest of the State of Washington and much of the world now, I am in a strange and unchosen time. This global pandemic is reshaping all of us.
The idea of Sabbath is present at the very beginning of the biblical story. After six days of hard work on creation, God takes a break. On the seventh day, God rests.
That idea is fleshed out in the life of God’s people during the Exodus. Even before Moses received the Ten Commandments on Sinai, the community was told to observe the Sabbath. When the people wandering in the wilderness complained to Moses about their hunger, God promised manna in the morning and quail in the evening. The instructions for gathering those provisions are worth noting. First, what you need, and no more. Second, once a week, rest. The food you have will last through the Sabbath. The mamma will return when the sabbath has ended.
The story is not just about God, though. It is about us too. It tells of God’s provision and then it speaks to the people’s actual behavior. Some people gathered more than they needed, only to find it full of worms the next morning. Some went out to look for manna on the Sabbath but found none. The Sabbath was a day of rest, not only for the people, but for all of creation, and for our bread-baking God as well.
The profound lessons that come out of this story are social, and spiritual, and economic. We need one another. We are on this journey together. God is with us, providing daily bread. And, the story suggests, when we take more than we need, the extra accumulation will not save us.
I will say that just now, working hard from home, I don’t feel that rested. But I am experiencing the re-orientation that Sabbath can provide. A remembering of what matters most. A new appreciation for the simple gifts all around me. An even deeper awareness of how connected and dependent I am, and we all are, around the world. And even a recognition of how far from the sacred path I can stray without noticing until I stop and take a break.
None of that changes the fact that this is a very hard time, and we are facing real trauma and loss. This is a season of suffering. My prayers are for my community and for the world.
And we all have known for a long time that our all-consuming economy, accumulating wealth beyond measure for a few and leaving many to struggle for basic needs, leaving environmental destruction in its wake, has to change.
This uninvited time is also inviting us to take a different path. And on this first day of spring, I am remembering that the God of Sabbath is with us.