Injustice Against the Sabbath

BY LUE-YEE TSANG

We suffer. Sabbath is broken; the rat race goes on, with no day set apart to be holy for the regeneration, the redemption, of all other days. It’s from the liturgy of the people, from the partaking of grace in the form of word and sacrament, that salvation expands and fills everything else, not by all things being likewise baptized but by their becoming what they’re truly meant to be through God’s gracious gifts of life; but instead of breaking liberal secularity we’ve broken sacredness. Yes, the lines can’t be hermetic compartments any longer, but instead to cut off the source in the quest to equalize everything? Folly and nothing but. We suffer for it.

And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that YHWH thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm.

Rejected gift: unfaith

The Sabbath, like much of holy tradition, is a gift of God’s abundance. We in the modern age, however, have shaken it off in our desire to appear more free and enlightened than those who came before us. In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. As Stuart Bryan says in Credenda/Agenda, however, it’s those with power who stand the most to gain and the least to lose from abolishing the Sabbath, at the expense of everyone else:

The Lord’s Day is a gift not a burden. What this means is that those who would take the rest of the Lord’s Day away from us are not our friends. They are taskmasters, slave-drivers, tyrants. They are characters like Herod and Louis [XIV]. And this is why, scripturally, the command to grant rest on the Sabbath is primarily directed to the ‘movers and shakers’ in society rather than the workers.

Therefore, ‘if Christianity does not find it within itself to rediscover the Sabbath, it will forever remain in tatters.’ And if the Christian religio (i.e. the Christian’s bounden duty, as opposed to the libertarian’s) lies in tatters, so too will the whole commonwealth of man. But see, I am making all things new.

When the veil of the Temple was torn in two, as the Gospels testify, the rending of that barrier didn’t neutralize everything but opened the whole world to salvation. We see, then, that in Peter’s vision before the arrival of Cornelius’ men the Lord makes all food clean rather than flattening all food with neutrality. At least, this is how Luke’s theology goes, though Paul’s may not look the same. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. Indeed, no more restrictions against lighting candles or healing on the Sabbath! Christ is Lord of the Sabbath.

Sabbath food

So, about food. Feasting and rejoicing is good on the Lord’s Day. I’ve grown uncomfortable, however, with the practice of eating out then to enjoy time with friends, even though I did it just this past Day of Rest.

When Christians assume that there will always be pagans to work and service them on the Sabbath – that is, do their dirty work for them because they can’t do it themselves – we do worse than Deuteronomy mandated for ancient Israel:

On [the Sabbath] 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. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and YHWH your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore YHWH your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

God mandated a day of rest for all Israel, from highest to lowest, both man and beast, even the strangers living in the land. By having pagans work on that day, rather than sharing rest out of God’s abundance, we create for ourselves an underclass to keep in bondage, a bondage greater than the one that held the bondservants of the Hebrews. Even when some of us don’t individually eat out, many of our churches order restaurant food. ‘Sabbath?’ we say. ‘Bah, humbug.’ And so we take part ourselves in keeping others bound to our service, rather than blessing the nations with God’s gifts. Can we keep doing this? Churches, will we prioritize ‘practicality’ over justice, or has the Resurrection overcome the world?

[Originally posted on Lue-Yee’s blog.]

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2 thoughts on “Injustice Against the Sabbath

  1. Granted, for the sake of argument, that the Sabbath injunction applies to Christians, what are your criteria for determining what “work” is?

  2. I might ask instead what rest is. Whatever rest means, though, it must be more than the mere feeling of being refreshed. ‘We, who mystically represent the cherubim, and chant the thrice-holy hymn to the life-giving Trinity, let us set aside the cares of life, that we may receive the King of all, who comes invisibly escorted by the divine hosts.’ Having heard God’s most holy word and received his sealing gifts, having known in our midst the same Jesus who healed on the Sabbath, we go forth and live and proclaim this rest.

    The weekly Day of Resurrection (the first day of a New Creation) is a day of freedom, of deliverance from darkness, prefigured by the Sabbath healings. What actually does things in the world to loose bondage – physical healing, for instance – might be part of that, so our Sabbath activities might include inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind to join us for dinner (not that I’ve actually done that before) and enjoying the earth as God delighted in it on the seventh day.

    Keeping the Sabbath, I think, at least implies not working for pay (if Jews can get off for Yom Kippur and their Sabbath, and Muslims can be accommodated for Ramadan, why not Christians for the Sabbath?). It’s a feast day, right? – when no one can fast, just as Jesus’ disciples didn’t fast when he was still with them in the flesh. I guess our workaholic culture still makes many people work on Sundays, and Chinese restaurants are open every day (Christmas and Easter included), but I think generally the keeping of a feast means you don’t do what would be considered work on 25 December.

    I know I don’t have very detailed criteria, but I’m trying to learn about this too. John Montague would know more about Sabbath-keeping in practice.

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