[This post is part of a series about observing a sabbath.]
The final core dimension of a sabbath is relationship.
Relationship does not mean simply having lunch with friends and family, though that is certainly a worthy expression of this dimension. Relationship refers to the communal nature of its observance. The Sabbath was to be for everyone. The Sabbath is something we do together.
In Old Testament Israel, the Sabbath Day was not reserved for the wealthy or social elites. It was for everyone. Young and old. Rich and poor. Citizen and foreigner. Slave and free. Everyone was to observe the Sabbath.
This is clear in both of the primary iterations of this command:
- Exodus 20:10 “ but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.”
- Deuteronomy 5:14 “ but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter or your male servant or your female servant, or your ox or your donkey or any of your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates, that your male servant and your female servant may rest as well as you.”
In this way, the Sabbath was an equalizer. All paused before the Lord. All stood on the equal ground of cessation before the Lord. All received his redemption.
So, it is important to remember that the sabbath is not “your day” to do “your thing.” It’s not the introvert’s paradise or a day for selfishness. It is a day we observe together, and it is a day in which we help others so that they can observe it, too.
This is where the religious leaders in the Gospel accounts so often went wrong. They viewed the rest and remembrance of the Sabbath apart from its rightful setting within community. So, they could not fathom healing someone, of a non-fatal condition, on a Sabbath when that miracle could easily have waited a day. But Jesus understood. He knew the person with the crippled hand had not yet entered the rest of Sabbath (Luke 6:6), and since the Sabbath was for everyone, a healing was needed so that everyone could observe it. That miracle did not contradict or undermine the Sabbath; it fulfilled the Sabbath.
And this is why on a sabbath it is good and fitting to not only be with others but to care for others. It is a good day to preach the good news. It is a good day to visit a nursing home. It is a good day to help someone with a broken down car on the side of the road.
Why? Because it won’t really be a sabbath until it’s a sabbath for everyone. So, when you see your brother in need, you realize the sabbath has been interrupted, and you go help them to restore and restart the sabbath.
So a sabbath is for you, yes, but never at the expense of your neighbor, because the sabbath is not just for you. It is for all, to be enjoyed together.