In the last post, I observed what I’m seeing as a changing worship pattern – twice a month as the new normal. While these trends in worship patterns are interesting data to observe, the more important question is about how we practice Sabbath.
The changing worship patterns are, in some measure, a reaction to the more legalistic notions of Sabbath keeping. If I’m honest, I’ve gladly allowed other “freedoms” to creep into a day of sabbath. But how much of the good practice of Sabbath-keeping have I laxly lost? I can’t help but think Eric Liddell (cf. Chariots of Fire) had something on us today with our lovely Sunday ease. I wonder if a healthy pendulum swing back towards an intentional reclamation of the practice of Sabbath-keeping might be so needed for many of us, starting with myself.
The worrying thing behind the changing worship trends is what it says about our understanding of Sabbath. Do we know how to practice Sabbath? Has our hyper-connected, 24/7 pace of life created an indifference to the importance of this practice, an inability to stop and rest? Maybe we value the rest part of Sabbath – we’re all for a day off. But have we missed the vital role of prayer and worship in this practice?
One of the fine writers on Sabbath is the Jewish scholar/rabbi Abraham Heschel. What Heschel emphasizes is the importance Scripture gives to time even over place. He writes: “The Bible is more concerned with time than with space. It sees the world in the dimension of time. It pays more attention to generations, to events, than to countries, to things; it is more concerned with history than with geography. To understand the teaching of the Bible, one must accept the premise that time has a meaning for life which is at least equal to that of space; that time has a significance and sovereignty of its own.”
The illusion of our clocks and watches is to convince us that all time is equal, simply a measurement. But there is a created rhythm we are very much a part of, we are creatures in time. How we need to better understand time, understand the gracious nature of Sabbath. I love the biblical cycle of time, including the grace-saturated rhythm of sabbath. And I can learn something from my Jewish spiritual cousins, as they begin their Sabbath in the evening with a shared meal and a night’s sleep, waking to a day not of our making. Think of Sabbath as the gift of sacred, rest-filled time, a “good-for-nothing” day to be frittered away with God, beautifully wasted in prayer and play (but never a time to be killed).
I was listening to Eugene Peterson talk about Sabbath who wisely noted the social nature of Sabbath-keeping. “I don’t think you can keep the Sabbath by yourselves … it’s a social thing. It requires a lot of relationship, a lot of help … There’s just too much going to distract you. The most important thing we did in keeping a Sabbath is getting help.”
I know I need that help. The people I’ve begun to live and serve with here in Toronto – busy city dwellers constantly pressed for time – they need help of others to do this. I talked with someone who regularly has to work on Sundays, wondering how they and others like them, might find encouragement to this vital practice.
I think, together, this is possible. There’s a fabulous example of this in the theatre district of New York City where a Jewish theatre troupe called 24/6 was formed for Sabbath-observant Jews. Members in 24/6 are not required to rehearse or perform on Friday nights or Saturday afternoons, freed up to pursue their faith convictions and their vocations.
Are we serious enough about our Sabbath keeping to do something like that? To surround those in our faith-community faced with tough challenges, providing creative solutions, even material support? Does that seem too radical or has our work (or leisure) taken too high a priority?
How about we start simple – start encouraging one another to prepare for a Sabbath already on Saturday night. Instead of a late night out, leaving us predisposed to take a rain check on corporate worship the next day, why not intentionally prepare to enter a sacred time of rest with a simple meal and a quiet evening?
Isn’t some of our changing worship patterns symptomatic of a diminished discipleship, a shallow Christian community, or a plain failure to practice grace, working it into the fabric of our week’s rhythm?