Over the course of this last year, I have on several occasions devoted this space to talking about certain spiritual practices – giving, worship, sacraments, pilgrimage. As we head into the summer, let me offer one more that may be appropriate to the time, namely, Sabbath keeping, which at its deepest level as a practice tells us something about how we should use our time.
The fourth commandment is to keep the Sabbath holy. This at least means to cease working and to rest. Surely God in giving the commandment had the health and welfare of his people in mind; work was not to grind us down, and we were not to live for work, but only work to live. But there is more to it than just resting from work. The Sabbath is also meant to be a time to remember the God who brought his people out of Egypt and gave them the land that sustained them. It is to remember that it is God who ultimately sustains them, not their work. Thus the Sabbath is a time to engage God, and a time to understand what our priorities ought to be. It is a time when we need to think about how we use our time.
I suppose it got overdone, and Sabbath-keeping became rigid and even boring. Presently, to be frank, it is not kept at all. People are hardly apologetic about sports and yard work, or even the work they have brought home from the office, all of which now occupies so much of their time on Sundays. Sundays are not often used as a day to lift our eyes to something higher. Thus in the end we keep striving seven days a week, but not for things that actually last. We never rest, we never look, we do not take time to give thanks, we do not live with each other differently than through our striving to get ahead. If “never” is too strong a word, still, we do not spend enough time on these things so that we ever get very good at them.
Getting good at these things – resting, contemplating, thanking, living well with each other, is the point of the Sabbath, especially in Christianity. We celebrate it on Sundays, not because we are confused about what the last day of the week is, but because it is “the eighth day,” the day that prefigures our eternal life in God. We should do things on this day that look forward to that eternal life. We should do things that look like we understand what eternal life is all about. So it is not a day of getting ready to go back to work; it should be a day of living and thinking well, a day we use like no other day.
Summer time is not exactly a ceaseless Sabbath. But as we each take time that we haven’t had in the months before, surely it is well to think about how the Sabbath says something about what using time well is. Listen to that lesson, then, and take time to use time well this summer. Use it to lift up your eyes and hearts. Think about what it might mean to live as a community without violence and the things that breed violence across the spectrum. But don’t just think about it, live that way with all the people you encounter. If you do, you will be engaging in a very important spiritual practice.