Sermon delivered December 9, 2007
Recently I visited a friend. She is a very busy person, always on the go personally and professionally. On the refrigerator was a postcard from someone who must have known her well. It said, "I'll have time to sleep when I'm dead." Do ever feel that there are not enough hours in the day and not enough days in the week? Is sleep interfering with getting things done? If so, you are not alone. Life is very busy and seemingly getting more hectic these days.
Let's take a step back today and consider a few things. We cannot add another hour or two to the 24 we have each day nor can we add a day to each week. These are fixed and constant. What can we change in order to be more productive and not feel so pressured for time? We can try to change ourselves by periodically and regularly taking rest in a Sabbath. What is Sabbath? Most of you probably know that it comes from Hebrew word "sabbat" and Greek word "Sabbato" that refers to the seventh day of week -- Saturday.
The origin of Sabbath goes back to Genesis: "Thus the heavens and earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all His work which He had done in creation" (Genesis 2:1-3).
After God freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He led them to Mt. Sinai. There He revealed Himself to Moses and gave the tablets of the Law, the Ten Commandments. Listen to the fourth commandment:
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work; but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your manservant or your maidservant or your cattle or the sojourner who is within your gates; for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy" (Exodus 20:8-11).
The Sabbath is important for two reasons: 1) It is a time for rest and recovery; and 2) It is holy, meaning set-apart for God. In the first, the corollary is implied that if the all-powerful, all-knowing God needs rest, then we His tiny creatures need rest too. If we think and act like we do not need rest, then we are placing ourselves above God. In the second, we have the foundation for communal worship. In both Jewish and Orthodox Christian liturgical time, the new day begins at sunset/sundown. Thus, Sabbath began on Friday (Greek: Paraskeve meaning "preparation") evening.
Essentially, the Sabbath is a day of physical rest and spiritual joy, centered around the twin poles of home and synagogue. In Orthodox Judaism, as the men leave for evening service, the women recite a special blessing over the Sabbath candles. Upon his return, the husband blesses his wife and the children, they pray and sing together and partake of a meal of bread and wine together. Some families eat the meal first and then go together to evening service. The next day, Saturday, another festive meal is eaten and the day ends with another worship service" (Oxford Dictionary of Judaism).
Jesus Christ observed the Sabbath by going to the synagogue regularly and at times by going away, either by Himself or with His disciples, to be alone and/or to pray (Mark 6:31; Luke10:38-42; John 6:15;12:36). In addition, after completing His work of salvation culminating in His death on the Cross, Jesus rested in Hades on the Sabbath before being raised from the dead by His Father. In fact, we find Jesus in the synagogues on the sabbath in today's Gospel reading from the 10th Sunday of Luke 13:10-17. He heals the woman with the 18 year infirmity.
We can learn a great deal from this passage. Of course, in the Orthodox Christian tradition, Sabbath rest is taken not on Saturday but on Sunday (Greek: Kyriake -- "the Lord's Day") that begins with Great Vespers service on Saturday evening and culminates with the Divine Liturgy -- the Lord's Supper on Sunday. The woman with the eighteen year infirmity observes the Sabbath, takes leave of work, goes to the synagogue, is seen by Jesus who calls her over, speaks to her, touches and heals her. We need to do essentially the same thing. It is no coincidence that the relationship between Sabbath and healing is highlighted.
If we constantly work and are busy, eventually our body and mind will begin to break down. We are not made to endure constant stress and anxiety. We must take a break. We must also remember that our rest needs be accompanied by a return, a return to God. Just like we need 7-8 hours of sleep each day, we need to spend some time, at least a few minutes each day, in dedicated prayer, meditation and quietness.
The day we take-off from work should be Sunday and on that day, we need to be right here to hear the Word of God and touch/taste His Body and Blood. Our rest in and return to God will have several effects:
When we do pray, the minutes and hours of the day are stretched and we can accomplish my work, even more work than if we had not prayed. Therefore, let us observe the Sabbath and keep it holy so God can prepare and raise us up to eternal life.
Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews is the pastor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. Fr. Andrews is the past president of Minnesota Eastern Orthodox Christian Clergy Association (MEOCCA), and a volunteer chaplain with the St. Paul Police Department.