The ancient Hebrews knew the importance of un-programmed relaxation time—time to refrain from all conventional work. In order to insure sacred time free from usual work the ancient Hebrews established a holy day: the Sabbath.
In American culture, remembrance of the Sabbath is the most ignored of the Ten Commandments.
What did Jesus say about the Sabbath? He said the Sabbath was created for people, not people for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). He meant we don’t have to get legalistic about it. If someone’s ill, by all means care for them on the Sabbath. If a cow is caught in a fence, by all means, release it, even if it’s the Sabbath. But, (and this is the point) Jesus never did away with the Sabbath. Jesus observed and honored it (Matthew 5:17-18).
In recent North American history business owners closed shop and refused to conduct business on Sundays. Throughout the last century Sunday was treated as a Sabbath day. People spent Sundays with their families, had brunch, went to church, and relaxed in a hammock with a cold glass of lemon spritzer. On Sundays people spent leisure time in the garden, tending to their tomato vines and flower beds. It was a day for picnics and barbeques, for walking the pooch, and splashing in the pool. It was a time for a passage of scripture or a song on the ukulele.
Now most businesses keep their doors open on Sundays. Clubs and schools hold meetings and galas on Sundays. Few are bothered. The conventional sense of Sabbath vanished. It has lost its hold throughout America cities, suburbs, and ranch lands. If we want a day of rest we’ll have to create it. We’ll have to value it enough to carve it out of our busy lives and hear the squawks of protest from family and business partners.
I strive for at least one half day a week for centering prayer, devotions, reading, and writing—no other commitments. This day of rest is a lifeline. It’s a key to holistic health—a time to counteract the incessant activity.
On the Sabbath the ancient Hebrews read Torah and rested from all physical work. The Hebrew notion of Sabbath made a profound impact on Western society. The two day “weekend” practiced by all industrialized countries has its roots in the Judaic Sabbath (T. Cahill, The Gift of the Jews).
Sabbath reconnects us with the burning desires of our lives. It puts our lives in perspective, and helps us discern what we in truth want to do with our time. “What are my priorities?” “Am I happy?” “Are my choices in line with my faith?” “What am I on fire about?” “Do I take time to serve?” “Is my life caught up with numerous insignificant details?” “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” “What is my life’s mission?”
If we don’t take regular time to get perspective, we may get ensnared in numerous commitments out of sync with our core values. Sabbath time is the Mary part of the Mary and Martha story (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was busy, multitasking to make it all happen. Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet, absorbed his words, and listened in stillness and rapture.
The fourth commandment is just as important today as it was to the ancients. The commandment is, “Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8).