July is, for many people in this part of the world, the month when summer truly begins. Classes are over in schools, the holidays booked months ago are so close we can hardly wait for the escape, and, in Canada, we begin with a civic holiday on 1 July. Summer holidays and time off from our usual routines have finally arrived.
The idea of time off in our popular culture is usually understood as a break from work. (Historically offered by employers only when civic governments force them to do so, but the exploitation of workers is a different piece of writing!) We might use this time to engage in hobbies, to travel, to go camping, or whatever else we like. This is often mixed—unhelpfully and inaccurately—with the Christian understanding of Sabbath.
Sabbath, after all, is more than a break from our regular work. Keeping the Sabbath is the fourth of the ten commandments and something that we do in imitating God’s own practice. To paraphrase Walter Brueggemann, God’s keeping of the Sabbath on the seventh day of creation reveals to us that God is a god of restfulness and not restlessness.
Chronic restlessness, the kind imposed by Pharaoh on the enslaved Israelites in the building of monuments in Egypt, or the kind imposed on us today by an economic system that demands constant growth, is a path that always ends in illness and destruction. There is always one more task to do, one more thing to buy, one more place to go, one more sign of success in a competitive system to accumulate. This crushing expectation for constant growth and consumption forces us into political and cultural decisions the use up and exploit, rather than nurture and heal. Even consuming the land we live on and the lives of our neighbours. This constant consumption and dedicated, competitive self-interest are the “other gods” of scripture, demanding more and more and more from their followers without concern for their health, wholeness, or lives.
Only when we ponder the “other gods” and the systems they authorize can we appreciate the radical nature of [the] first two commandments. Into this arena of restlessness comes the God of rest who offers relief from that anxiety-producing system. This God has no hunger for commodities and does not legitimate commodity systems. This God is attentive rather to the cries of those “left behind” and comes to open futures by exit (exodus) from systems of restlessness into the restfulness of neighborliness. - Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance
When we, as Christians, practice Sabbath intentionally and consistently, setting aside time each week, each season, each year, where we rest, we are not only taking a break from work, but making a statement to the world. We are emulating our God’s own practice and receiving the gift of our Sabbath-giving God. Rest is life-giving for us and for the world. Rest is part of our calling as the Body of Christ. Rest is holy.
The practice of Sabbath is a statement that our priorities and values as the Body of Christ are peculiar and not entirely the same as those of the culture and society around us. That we value healing, reconciliation, mutual care, neighborly love, and sustaining life more than we value endless consumption. This can be a difficult statement to make in a culture of incredible pressure to participate in consumption, exploitation, and accumulation. Few of our God-given callings are easy to live up to.
This summer—and always—enjoy the holidays and the much-needed rest they offer. Have fun, share with friends and family as you are able, and enjoy the break from work. But also rejoice in your spirit at the opportunity to witness to the world the freedom offered us by a Sabbath-giving God. A God who cares for us so deeply as to make our rest and refreshment holy.
Blessings on your rest.
Written for the Parish of Holy Trinity, Winnipeg.