As I wrap up my sermon series at the church on the Ten Commandments, I ask which one is the hardest for me to keep? By the way, none of us obey any commandment perfectly. We all break them, all of them, in one way or another. Yet, one of the commandments I struggle with the most, or at least one that is on my conscience more often, is the fourth commandment: the sabbath. It’s really hard for me to just stop and rest which is what sabbath literally means in Hebrew. It’s hard for most of us. To begin with, we live in a world that says we’re only as successful as what we produce. So, we run ourselves crazy trying to keep up by putting in ungodly hours at the job or trying to finish a degree with a spouse and kids at home, and so on. Furthermore, in our warped world a full calendar has become a status symbol. When I ask for someone’s time, nine times out of ten I get the same reply: “let me check my calendar.” Indeed, in our world, the concept and practice of sabbath has become laughingstock.
While sabbath might seem foolish, its practice is necessary for our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. As I heard a preacher say once: “if you don’t take a break, you will break.” For people of faith, sabbath is not an option but a command. We are called to “keep the sabbath” for rest. However, we are also called to the practice of sabbath in order to jog our memory. According to Exodus 20:11, we rest on the sabbath because God rested at creation. God created during the six days but rested on the seventh. Deuteronomy 5:15 call us to rest on the sabbath in order to remember God’s act of delivering his people from the bondage of Egypt. In both versions of the commandment, the word “remember” is present. So, on sabbath we rest but we also remember God our creator (Exodus 20), and God our redeemer (Deuteronomy 5).
The theologian Karl Barth reminds us that humankind’s first full day after they were created was the seventh day, the sabbath rest-day. God created humankind on the sixth day and gave them their mandates to “be fruitful and multiply” and “have dominion.” However, the next day, the seventh, God rested. So, as Barth says, before there was the law, there was grace. Indeed, sabbath rest is grace we cannot afford to ignore.
Rev. Will Wilson is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Kilgore. Contact him at email@example.com .