Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gift Exchange and the Sabbath Part 1

Since I became a Christian the Sabbath seemed to be special to me. I'd like to think the Sabbath was special for high minded reasons. For example, God viewed creation as good on the other six days but the only day He blessed was the seventh day (Genesis chapters 1-2). Or, because God told his people to keep the Sabbath holy (Exodus 20:8). Or, because Jesus tells us that, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27) so there must be some benefit for us to keeping it. No, I think the Sabbath appealed to me because of some idyllic scene in my mind's eye of slowing down the pace of life.

Those more "high minded" reasons set the Sabbath aside as a unique day in our week and there is more to the day than the quaint notion that was the source of initial attraction. However, slowing down the pace is also important. As Abraham Joshua Heschel notes in his slim book The Sabbath, humans can become obsessed with things in space but the Sabbath is a "palace in time" that marks space with significance and returns us to our roots. One image in particular has stuck with me months after finishing the book. Upon telling the story of two men, Rabbi Shimeon and his son Rabbi Eleazar, who were hiding from government officials in a cave for twelve years Heschel offers this marvelous image,

It was the eve of the Sabbath when they left the cave, and as they came out they saw an old man carrying two bundles of myrtle in his hand, a sweet-smelling herb having the perfume of paradise. 

What are these for they asked him.

They are in honor of the Sabbath, the old man replied.

Said Rabbi Shimeon to his son: Behold and see how dear God's commands are to Israel … At that moment they both found tranquility of the soul. 

Rabbi Shimeon came away with a great sense of how law abiding the old man was; however, when I read this I thought, "The man looked forward to the Sabbath! It is his delight to celebrate." How often do we not see the Sabbath as a great gift? In the last couple years I have been guilty of thinking …. Do I really want/need to go to church? But, this image reminds me that this man looked forward to the Sabbath. He wanted to celebrate the Sabbath.

Perhaps we get to that place when we have engaged in contemplation. Contemplation on the mysteries and the sacrifice of God in His son Jesus is like receiving a gift. I hazard to guess that those who come to worship with joy are returning the gift they came to better understand through contemplation.

1 comment:

Yezgani said...

I can identify with you on sometimes not looking forward to the sabbath with gladness. I sometimes look at the Sabbath day as depriving me of my beloved football. We however need to start enjoying the Sabbath hours. There is a video on the following link that gives some tips on how enjoy the sabbath hours. http://whatissabbath.net/how-to-keep-the-sabbath-and-enjoy-it/