Let’s talk about the Sabbath and what Jesus is saying and what he is not saying in our gospel passage today. What Jesus is not saying is that we are not to observe the Sabbath. What he is saying is that you are to observe the Sabbath, and on the Sabbath you take care of the needs of animals, why not also take care of each other’s needs as well. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). It is for our benefit, and what is more beneficial than being healed after 18 years of suffering from a serious sickness or infirmity. Isn’t that what the Sabbath is supposed to be about? (Luke 13:10-17)
So whatever day your Sabbath is, whether it is on a Saturday or Sunday, please remember this: This day was made for your benefit. You were not made for the day. God did not say, “Okay let’s create a day for rest, and then we can create people so they can rest on that day”. No, it’s not just about a particular day. It’s about us, you and me. God loves us, knows we get tired and knows we need rest. So, the Sabbath was made for us, and not us for the Sabbath. Jesus turns this all around. And, he says earlier in Luke, “Oh, and by the way, the Son of Man (Jesus) is Lord of the Sabbath. The day is not Lord. Jesus is Lord. That’s why we call the Sabbath Day the Day of the Lord or the Lord’s Day. (Luke 6:5)
We believe as the early church did, that the Sabbath Day is on a Sunday; because that is the day that Jesus was raised from the dead. So that became our Sabbath Day, following the lead from the early church that looked at Sunday not only as the day of rest, but the first day of the week, also referred to as the 8th Day. Patriarchs of the first and second century, including Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Cyprian, and Dyonisis supported the 8th day, the first day of the week, Sunday worship. This day represents the day that Jesus rose from the dead, and a day that we celebrate and remember our new life in Christ. Most Christians choose Sunday as the “Lord’s Day”, the Sabbath Day. However the Eastern Orthodox Church chooses to celebrate Saturday as the Sabbath and Sunday as the “Lords Day.” They reserve both Saturday and Sunday as holy but put more emphasis on Sunday worship.
My “official personal” Sabbath (day of rest), and most of you know this, happens to be Monday. Bishop Mathis encouraged all diocesan clergy and in fact insists that it be in our contractual agreement, that one day a week, (24 hours) be considered a personal Sabbath, a time to get out of the office and distance ourselves from parish life completely, except in the case of emergencies. And, I am sure Bishop Susan will agree with this advice. So, I do my best to follow those guidelines; (no emails, phone calls, office hours, etc…) It does not always work out that way, but everyone needs a day of rest. For most of you it is Sunday. It is for me as well, but Sunday is also a workday for me, but it is our “Lords Day, our Sabbath Day as we meet together as a church. And, we remember that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. The day is not Lord. Jesus is Lord.
There are some folks that get very little rest. I know what that is like. As a past business owner, I have experienced what it’s like to work around the clock when necessary, working when I would have rather been home with my family,and working at times when I was sick and should have been in bed, not sacrificing because I wanted too, but knowing that if I didn’t the new business would not have survived. Some of you know what I’m talking about and have experienced some of that in your own lives.
Saint Augustine preached and wrote that the Sabbath is more than just a day. He said Sabbath taking is the practice of recognizing the resurrected Christ and taking time to practice entering into the rest that Jesus has provided for all of us, on a daily basis. According to the book of Hebrews, Jesus is our Sabbath rest. And, we can enter into a time of rest. There is a rest, a time for us to be at rest, and a time for us to enjoy the presence of God in our lives. “There remains a Sabbath rest”, and we miss out if we do not have a daily practice of taking advantage of and entering into that time of rest. 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 (Hebrews 4:9-11a)
Most people refer to time set aside for Sabbath rest as a spiritual practice, a time to leave our toils and responsibilities behind and enter into a time of prayer, a time of restful communion with God. I would like to see us plan a quiet day, perhaps a Saturday during Advent and talk about different types of prayer practices, a spiritual workshop day. I believe that many people would love some guidance in developing and nurturing a spiritual practice.
I know it’s not easy for everyone to find the time or the right place for a spiritual practice. Our lives can become really busy with children, work, bills, entertainment, etc… It reminds me of the story or Susana Wesley, mother of John and Charles Wesley. She made a commitment to God to spend time in prayer every day. Besides being the mother of 19 children, growing her own vegetables and raising her own livestock, she suffered from sickness most of her life. She had one child that could not speak, one that was crippled, and out of the 19 children only 10 lived to be adults. Susana made it clear to her children though, that when it was time for her prayer practice she went into the corner of the room and pulled her apron over her head, this was her time for prayer, a time to be left alone with God, a time of Sabbath rest, a spiritual practice.
May we all find a time to throw our aprons over our heads, to find an oasis in the middle of a crowd if necessary, and to enter into a time of Sabbath rest, a time of sweet communion with our Lord.
I found in NYC when I traveled between hospitals as a chaplain, I would travel between the Manhattan VA to the Brooklyn VA, which was about 45-minute ride by subway. I found that even in a sometimes crowded subway car, I could close my eyes and spend silent prayer alone with God. There does not need to be vocal words when praying, and especially just centering in on a restful experience of contemplative prayer, just being alone with God. That was Sabbath taking for me, as it says in Hebrews “I was taking time and entering into Sabbath rest” There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. (Hebrews 4:5)
On our spiritual journey it is good to stop in at the gas station, get refueled, check our tires, and go through the car wash. It’s kind of like what we do on Sundays, we come here on the Sabbath Day to be refueled, to get our souls washed, to be washed by God Spirit, to confess our sins and to be forgiven and renewed as we worship together, at the Eucharist table, and enjoy a time of fellowship with each other.
That’s what we do on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not just a time to sit or lay around. It can be that too, an opportunity to turn on the golf channel lay down on the couch and take a nap on Sunday afternoon. But, as Jesus tells us, it is a time for healing, a time to be encouraged, corrected, inspired, challenged, energized and refueled. That’s what we do on the Sabbath, Sunday worship service.
The Sabbath was made for us, and not us for the Sabbath. Jesus is still Lord on the Sabbath Day and every day. May we honor the Sabbath Day and may we also enter into our Sabbath rest on a daily basis.