Meditation Monday – Sabbath in the Midst of Lent

by Christine Sine

by Christine Sine

On Friday I flew to Southern California to celebrate my good friend Ruth’s 80th birthday. I felt a little guilty heading off in the middle of Lent and then was reminded that the 40 days of Lent do not include Sundays. We always take a time out on Sundays. Feasting in the midst of fasting is the way of Lent. It is just that I am taking all my Sundays at once.

Even before I arrived at my destination I felt God shining on what I realized is a much needed Sabbath rest in the midst of a very busy and challenging season. It was worth getting up at 4am to watch the sunrise at 35,000 on a beautiful clear day. Mount Rainier, Mt Baker, Mt St Helenas, Mt Hood, Mt Shasta, and others I cannot name, all came out to play in the beautiful morning glow. I sat and watched the changing colours and the changing landscape as we flew south. Breathing in and out slowly, savouring the wonder of it all and drinking in the revitalizing beauty really did make me feel that I was entering into God’s Sabbath rest.

Sunrise over Mt Rainier (c) Christine Sine

In his inspirational book Sabbath as Resistance, Walter Brueggemann reminds us that Sabbath is not about keeping rules but rather about becoming whole persons in the midst of a restored, whole society.

Brueggemann contrasts the restless anxiety of our producer/consumer culture with the restfulness of God’s Sabbath world.

In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods. Such an act of resistance requires enormous intentionality and communal reinforcement amid the barrage of seductive pressures from the insatiable insistences of the market, with its intrusion into every part of our life from the family to the national budget….

But Sabbath is not only resistance it is alternative. It is an alternative to the demanding, chattering, pervasive presence of advertising and its great liturgical claim of professional sports that devour all our “rest time.” The alternative on offer is the awareness and practice of the claim that we are situated on the receiving end end of the gifts of God. (preface xiv)

Brueggemann explains that the command to keep Sabbath is the pivotal point of the Ten Commandments, something that we often forget or ignore. The weekly work pause breaks the production cycle. It breaks the anxiety cycle and invites us into a radical world of neighbourliness and equality. The commandments that follow he tells us really show us what neighbourliness looks like – you do not dishonour mother and father, you do not kill, commit adultery, steal, bear false witness or covet.

Sabbath is not simply a pause. It is an occasion for reimagining all of social life away from coercion and competition to compassionate solidarity. Such solidarity is imaginable and capable of performance only when the drivenness of of acquisitiveness is broken. Sabbath is not simply the pause that refreshes. It is the pause that transforms. Whereas Israelites are always tempted to acquisitiveness, Sabbath is an invitation to receptivity, an acknowledgement that what is needed is given and need not be seized. (45)

A final splash of glory over Mt St Helens

Grappling with the implications of Brueggemann’s theological interpretation is something that I am sure will occupy a lot of my mind in the next few weeks. I have long felt that God’s kingdom of wholeness and restfulness is the world view around which my whole life should revolve but I must confess it is not always so. Like the Israelites and like many of us, anxiety and acquisitiveness very quickly take over and in the midst of that anxiety the temptation to let go of Sabbath is huge.

Brueggemann’s book is an  essential read for all of us. And I hope that like me you will be challenged by this book to rethink your life and to learn to live in the Sabbath restfulness that God intends for us all.

This weekend has certainly had this kind of a Sabbath flavour for me. Celebrating with friends whom I have have known for almost 50 years, is a glimpse into the kingdom for me. We have supported each other – physically, spiritually and emotionally through the highs and lows of life. We have supported each others’ ministries and encouraged each other when we felt unworthy. In so many ways we have helped each other draw close to God and to the wonder of being part of God’s eternal family. I cannot imagine anything more fitting as a Lenten celebration as this is meant to be a time that helps keep us on track pushing forward, and helping others push forward towards the kingdom of God.

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