Keep the Sabbaths

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The Sabbath is not just a particular day in the week. It is how we understand and observe the Sabbath that gives it meaning. In this passage from the Book of Exodus, God gives several reasons for observing this commandment. Those reasons are still true today.

First, God tells Moses, ʺYou must tell the Israelites: Keep my Sabbaths, for that is to be the sign between you and me throughout the generations, to show that it is I, the Lord, who make you holy.ʺ (Exodus 31:13) The Sabbath, then, is a sign of the eternal relationship that God established between us from the time he spoke to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Secondly, when we observe the Sabbath, when we keep this commandment, it has an affect on us; it makes us holy. ʺTherefore, you must keep the Sabbath for it is holiness for you.ʺ (Ex. 31:14) We can understand the logic of this passage. ʺIfʺ you keep the Sabbath, ʺthenʺ you will become holy. The argument here is that ʺifʺ you develop the habit of making the Sabbath a day to consciously remember the presence of God, the power, the mercy and the love of God, prayerfully contemplating that relationship and how it shapes your own life, ʺthenʺ you will be opening yourself to the graces of God that will make you holy in your being and in your actions in the world. Does not the world need such holy people?

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Thirdly, in keeping the Sabbath we are imitating God’s actions. ʺBetween me and the Israelites it is to be an everlasting sign; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day he rested at his ease.ʺ (Ex. 31:17) In this way, God makes the commandment and invitation to us. It is an invitation to be quiet, to rest in his presence. After all his work was done, ʺGod looked at everything he had made, and found it very good.ʺ Then, on the seventh day he, ʺrested from the work he had done in creation.ʺ (Gen. 1:31, 2:3)

For too many of us today, work has become an all-consuming reality. I am old enough to remember a time when most of the businesses in town, large and small, closed their doors on Sundays. Most people went to church in those days too. Now, everything is open on Sundays and fewer and fewer people attend Sabbath services at their churches. The idea of ʺholinessʺ is considered by many to be a thing from an antique and ignorant past. I think it would be safe to say that the world is definitely lacking in holiness, but that may have been true in every generation. The challenge here is not for ʺothers,ʺ but for we Christians to take this commandment seriously. We are the ones who are charged by God to be holy in the world, and in our holiness to live our lives in a Christ-like manner well enough to bring others to Christ and his holiness. We are to be the leaven in this tired world. By keeping the Sabbath we can become that holy leaven.

Let us, then, be Sabbath people. No matter what day you call the Sabbath, keep it and let God make you holy in the keeping of it.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.