In Mark’s gospel story the theme of sabbath comes up on a number of occasions. Most of these instances include controversy. The religious teachers are prodding Jesus about his views on Sabbath and looking to catch him breaking the divine command. Early in Mark’s gospel Jesus makes this statement regarding Sabbath
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!” (Mk 2:27-28)
This statement drives to the heart of God’s intention for the Sabbath. It was not merely a command to be obeyed but a provision to be enjoyed. It was created to meet a human need. Sabbath is gift and imperative. It was made for you. You were not made for the command.
This confirms a reading of Genesis 1-2 that understands the 7th day as a gracious open ended invitation to enter God’s rest. Understanding one of the ten commandments in this light begs the question. Are the other nine gifts rather than burdens? Were they made to meet the needs of people?
I have been working through a book by Walter Brueggemann titled Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now. I have been challenged to rethink the theological and practical significance of Sabbath for our time and culture. As I have thought about the theme biblically and theologically I have learned a few helpful insights. I will bullet point them here.
- Sabbath is grounded in God as Creator who rests after his work and invites us into his rest
- Sabbath is grounded in God as Redeemer who rescues us into his saving rest
- Sabbath is a God-given means for human beings to embrace their creatureliness and rest within their limitations
- Sabbath is a God-given means for believers to embrace their redemption and rest in God’s saving work
- Sabbath is about imitating and meeting God
- Sabbath is about embracing our identity as image bearers and experiencing God’s rest
- Sabbath is about serving one’s neighbor and introducing others to God’s rest
- Sabbath is a gift, invitation, and imperative all at the same time
Here are a few memorable quotes from the book that will give you a taste of Brueggemann’s contribution to this topic.
“At the taproot of this divine commitment to relationship rather than commodity is the capacity and willingness of this God to rest. The Sabbath rest of God is an acknowledgment that God and God’s people in the world are not commodities to be dispatched for endless production…The fact that our God is a Sabbath keeping God ensures that restfulness and not restlessness is at the center of life.”
“The divine rest of creation has made clear that God is not a workaholic, that God is not anxious about the full functioning of creation, and that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work. This performance and exhibit of divine rest thus characterize the God of creation, creation itself, and the creatures made in the image of the resting God.”
“Sabbath, in the first instance, is not about worship. It is about work stoppage. It is about withdrawal from the anxiety system of Pharaoh, the refusal to let one’s life be defined by production and consumption and the endless pursuit of private well-being.”
“The first commandment is a declaration that the God of the exodus is unlike all the gods the slaves have known heretofore. This God is not to be confused with or thought parallel to the insatiable gods of imperial productivity. This God is subsequently revealed as a God of mercy, steadfast love, and faithfulness who is committed to covenantal relationships of fidelity (see Exod. 34:6–7).”
“Those who remember and keep Sabbath find they are less driven, less coerced, less frantic to meet deadlines, free to be, rather than to do.”