In the Name…
Two friends met up and one asked the other how he was doing since he'd lost his job. "Well, it was hard, at first,” he said, "But now I've taken up meditation and I'm much happier. It's better than sitting around doing nothing."
In view of our Gospel today, and with the 15th Lambeth Conference having concluded a couple of weeks ago, it led me to think that at the 3rd Lambeth Conference in 1888, one issue considered so pressing that it had to be addressed by the bishops assembled was this: the observance of the Sabbath.
The bishops at that Conference issued a report which included these statements: “The observance of the Lord’s Day as a day of rest…has been a priceless blessing.... The increasing practice on the part of some of the wealthy and leisurely classes of making the day a day of secular amusement is most strongly to be deprecated. The most careful regard should be had to the danger of any encroachment upon the rest which on this day is the right of servants…and of the working classes...”
The language is a bit dated, but even in 1888 we see there were concerns over Sunday becoming a day of amusement for those with means, and concerns that people who have to work for a living were not getting time with their families.
Now, although Sabbath observance was not on the agenda of the recent Conference, in today’s fast-paced, technological, consumer-driven society we might wonder if it should have been. Indeed, might not this issue be more relevant and pressing in the lives of more Anglicans around the world than some of the others that captured the headlines?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus argues with those who criticize him for healing on a Sabbath. He counters that in healing the woman, he is actually setting her free from bondage, and just as anyone would untie an animal to show it compassion, how much more appropriate is releasing someone from the powers that work against human health, wholeness, and freedom?
Well, who wouldn’t agree with that? Showing compassion and working for the dignity of every human being is appropriate on every day of the week. We applaud Jesus’ opposition to a legalistic view of the Sabbath, and then we turn the page, thankful that, in our enlightened times, we’re not weighed down by faulty and outdated interpretations of Scripture.
Yet, perhaps this is where we run into trouble. Are we too quick to place a check mark by this story, thinking how fortunate we are not to have to worry about this subject but not reflecting that if, in Jesus, we are, indeed, set free from a legalism, then for what is it that we are set free?
Are we simply free to add more hours to our work week? Are we free simply to participate another day in our consumer culture, making purchases, acquiring, accumulating? Are we free so that our lives can be fully scheduled, never missing a chance to compete, excel, keep up, or add an activity?
Of course, work, the ability to acquire the things we need, and our personal activities are all good things in and of themselves. But is there a price we pay in never designating one day, any day, or, indeed, any time as a day, as a time, of Sabbath?
The people of God have long struggled with figuring this out. Even in our first lesson, we heard the prophet Isaiah say: “if you honour it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.”
The passage goes on beyond what we read, and it is no accident that, as it does, the prophet connects his people’s faulty understanding of Sabbath with issues of justice, such as feeding the hungry and meeting the needs of the afflicted. So, it seems that Sabbath and ministry have something to do with each other.
We may well consider, then, for what are we free?
I think that St. John Paul II had a handle on it when he said: "Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought." "Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought."
Certainly, we are free for rest. We all need it: adults and children, workers and retirees, doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs. All. We are mortal creatures with real bodily needs to stop and replenish. And, here’s where rest is a justice issue because we also need an economy in which people can make a living wage without having to work every day of the week in order to make ends meet.
And, we are free to remember our dependency on God. Keeping a Sabbath reminds us that God is God and we can stop trying to be God. We can spiritually and mentally rest by worshipping and learning about the real God. We can immerse ourselves in God’s eternity, in an activity in which we produce nothing but praise; where we are valued, not because of what we make, do, earn, deserve, know, contribute, or achieve, but because we are created and loved by God.
So, properly used, Sabbath strengthens us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and love our neighbour as our self.
Jesus’ healing of the crippled woman indicates that things done for God’s glory and people are to be done whenever and wherever needed. And we are ready to do them best when we have rested physically and spiritually.
So, there it is. How shall we keep the concept of Sabbath in our own day? How may we be set free?
In the Name…