t was a Friday evening in Jerusalem, back in 2012. We left the sixth-floor of the hotel where our room was and got into the elevator, pushed the button, but nothing happened. Eventually, the doors closed, and the lift began to descend, stopping and waiting on each floor. We walked out each time thinking we reached the lobby level. No! We were just a floor down or maybe the next. Later our guide explained that this was a “Shabbat elevator” which runs by itself with no action required by the individuals in it. I was surprised to see that Torah’s rules and technology go together. But, is sabbath merely the idea of “not to work” or “an enforced rest” or is there something more to it?
Growing up, I equated sabbath with Sunday! But Sundays have become far too overprogrammed and performance-oriented. It has become another set of to-dos, over-scheduled programmes per week rather than a break from them. When you pair the busy-church with technology and smartphone addictions, it ironically becomes a contradiction to sabbath.
In the Genesis creation narrative, we learn that God, after creating the universe, set aside a special day of rest (Gen 2:2-3). God “ceased” His work on the seventh day. God stopped creating, but in that very act of ceasing, rest was created for humanity. Subsequently, God’s people were to keep the sabbath as a day on which they refrained from work (Ex 20:8-11; Lev 25:1-22; Heb 3:7-4:13).
We get sabbath wrong, says Susan Sink (For Sabbath’s Sake: Embracing Your Need for Rest, Worship and Community [Upper Room, 2017]). We think that our culture and economy is going to lure us into ceasing our work to lean into a time of rest. Or we view sabbath with a perfectionist lens. If we can’t do it correctly (legalistically), we won’t do it at all. We also lack humility and serve up excuses. We like to keep ourselves busy, because it makes us feel valuable, relevant, and needed.
It is time to look at sabbath from a realistic perspective because our permission for ‘rest’ comes from God, who ordained sabbath for us. It calls us to participate in the awe and joy of God’s creation. Sink defines elements of a good sabbath as rest, worship, and community-as simple as a siesta, a prayer, and a shared meal. Sabbath is about simplifying, not over-scheduling. The church should direct itself on how to make room and develop contemplative practices-in worship and other ministries. The church is also a simple gathering-a community-where there are plenty of opportunities to share warmth and love to have fellowship. Sharing meals with new and old friends, chit-chat with strangers, uninterrupted time to catch up with a loved one is sabbath. Let us strive for a balanced sabbath of rest, worship, and community as we read this issue.