Have we forgotten to celebrate the Sabbath? I’m not talking about shops opening on Sundays. Sabbath has never really been about that. Sabbath is a gift from God that enters our time and stops us dead in our tracks – and the majority of us dare not accept this precious gift.
Modern Britain is a fast-moving, high-pace, hyper-active culture. Everything moves at 90 miles per hour, and we dare not lag behind. The fashion industry keeps us changing, ridiculing us if we do not follow. Technology keeps changing, again demanding that we constantly upgrade our gadgets. Clothes, computers, cars, mobile phones, all date so quickly. And we have to keep up to date! Why? Because this is what we have been programmed to do. Marketers quietly exert their power to create the market they need by manipulating consumers to keep up to date.
Poisoned by this unending desire to keep up, we find ourselves stuck on a running machine with somebody else controlling the speed. And in such a world, how are we able to slow down? Silence, Solitude, Prayer? Of course not, we have been programmed to keep moving. We have become so afraid of our selves that we must fill every empty airwave with noise from our techno-toys. (How often do we hear of people who, whin in the house on their own turn on the TV for ‘a bit of background noise’?)
No, we’re as afraid of silence as we are of ourselves, and so we are content to remain plugged in to the hyper-active culture that shapes us. In the midst of this frenzy, in which even our supposed relaxation is polluted with restlessness, what are God’s people to do? Many would urge us to ‘keep up’, so that we can share God’s love in relevant ways (as if true love was ever irrelevant!) But if we are controlled by this same restlessness, regardless of what Christian sounding truths we might have acquired, we have nothing of value to say. Even if we claim to be free, we are just pagans with fish badges.
On witnessing such inescapable upheaval and change, one hymn writer remembered the power of God, and mediated God’s command: “Cease striving, and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10) The word for ‘cease’ is the verbal root of the word ‘sabbath’.
Sabbath is not just a noun, but also a verb. It is not a dead command, but an active invitation. Thrown into a world that is running late, unable to keep up with itself and slavishly hyper-active, God invites us simply to ‘sabbath’, i.e., to stop!
Any instruction so simply is bound to be difficult! Sabbath is the gateway through which worshippers enter the time God has for them. It is in Sabbath that we find our place in God’s creation, as we reshape our lives around him. Sabbath is to step of the treadmill, and seek for God to be active in the world through us.But Sabbath is a communal activity. It is not well celebrated in pure solitude. That is why our gathered worship on Sunday is of crucial importance. Sunday is not Sabbath because we attend worship. Sunday is worship because we attend to Sabbath. It saturates our entire lives, so that when we arrive at church on a Sunday, we gather to be exposed to the life-changing presence of God.
Sabbath is not a passive interruption to our busy lives. It is the true centre of God’s action through us. Alas, even if we do find this understanding of Sabbath convincing, we are most likely to respond, ‘nice theory, and one that I’ll apply just as soon as I’ve made it to the end of this ridiculously busy week’, or in other words, ‘I’ll never celebrate Sabbath’
‘God fixed a certain day, calling it “today!”’ (Heb 4:7)
(Published in Verbo, Sep 07)