Maybe it’s the summer weather, maybe it’s the habit learned over our years of schooling, but summer always seems to promise time for rest, recreation and some much-needed lazy days. I hope that you have found such moments and maybe even days and weeks to relax with friends and loved ones.
Now we find ourselves post-Labor Day. As usual, those summer days are all too short and we are back to school, back to routine and piling on the stress. Perhaps this is a good moment for us to remember the gift of Sabbath rest. We do not have to wait until next summer to relax and de-stress. In fact, the Lord has given us the gift of rest and reflection in the rhythm of every week.
The notion of a day of rest was modelled by the Lord, Who rested on the seventh day after the six days of creation. The application of the command to human beings to rest on the seventh day, the sabbath, is found in a number of Old Testament passages and most notably in the Ten Commandments (Deut. 5:12).
The earliest Christians kept the Sabbath as had their ancestors before them. They also began to observe the Lord’s Day (Sunday) as a holy day and a day for worship of God, including the Eucharist. As these first Christians sought to live in accord with Jesus’ teachings, they would have recalled that he did not abolish the Sabbath but declared himself “Lord of the Sabbath,” asserting authority over the details of its observance. Even as he asserted his authority, he taught that the purpose of the Sabbath was not for the worship of God alone, but for the well-being of God’s people (Matthew 12:1-8).
Eventually, Christians began to see Sunday, the Lord’s Day, as their Sabbath. After all, the Old Testament Sabbath emerged from the process of creation and the Lord’s Day was the day of God’s re-creation through the miracle of the resurrection. In the Third Century, Ignatius of Antioch argued for the shift to Sunday, a change that took hold until recently.
In our own setting, the secular culture has abandoned any special consideration for Sunday. Faithful Catholics understand that Sunday is the day for the celebration of the Eucharist, but relatively few live Sundays as the Sabbath gift. Errands, shopping, sports and a host of other work and leisure activities have filled Sundays. The former customs of family dinners, Bible reading, quiet, reflection and prayer beyond Mass itself have fallen away.
I do not imagine that I can inspire us to recreate that past, but I do hope and pray that we might find ways to recognize and revive Sabbath in some way in our lives. The command to Sabbath observance forms part of the commandments that govern our relationship with God. These commandments proclaim the truth that our relationship with God is foundational to our own well-being and all other relationships. God is not demanding devotion, but revealing the truth of who we are and who we were made to be. This gift is partly about proper worship, but it is also about God’s desire that we find proper rest and renewal.
If you find yourself anxious, harried, busy all the time or struggling with the demands of work or family life, then consider that God asks you to find a way to pause, to reflect and to revive. Maybe it’s time for all of us to reconsider how we might make our Sabbath holy – set apart for God and the things of God. If we are lucky, someone will invite us to a Sunday dinner like Nonna used to make!