Each week we receive an incredible gift, and yet so many of us leave it there, still in its wrapping paper and bow. Or we open it a little bit but then put it back in the box and set it in a corner to collect dust.
What keeps so many of us from fully receiving the gift of a full day of rest each week?
Perhaps it’s a demanding job that requires working not only Sundays but at least part of every other day of the week as well. Perhaps it’s the expectation — from a boss or from ourselves — of checking email and social media every day, which can pull us in many directions.
There are also debates in our churches and in our homes about what it means to honor the Sabbath. Is it simply refraining from the work for which we are paid? Is it enough to go to church when we go home to fix this or organize that around the house? What about students and professors, whose reading and writing may not be all that different from the education we engage in Sunday school?
I’ve come to believe that there is no universal answer to these questions. In our pluralistic society, there are multiple Sabbath days each week (Christian, Jewish and Muslim), and an increasing number of people are not part of a tradition with a specific day of rest.
It’s not as simple as closing businesses on Sundays. We have to sort out in our communities and in our own lives what it means to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.
But in the midst of our diverse contexts, we’re all capable of losing sight of the fact that we need the Sabbath. More and more, our society expects from us almost-constant work. This is true across class lines, though there’s a major difference between a professional having to respond to work emails on a weekend and a service worker who takes multiple shifts or multiple jobs just to pay the bills.
And with technology creating 24/7 opportunities to connect with others, it’s all too easy to set time to rest aside in favor of more activity.
Amid all this is a paradox: Our limits liberate us from notions of self-sufficiency.
In Jer. 2:13, the prophet tells the people that they have forsaken God, “the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
By refusing to recognize our own limits, we become like empty vessels that have leaked out all of our water. That is why we need a day of Sabbath to refresh us. As Jesus tells us, “The Sabbath was made for humankind.”
We don’t like to admit our limits, to recognize our need for healing and restoration. Our society likes to go, go, go and not slow down. Yet there’s so much we miss when we move at a hurried, harried pace. Slowing down is necessary for the delight of seeing a baby’s funny face, or hearing a bird’s song, or smelling a simmering soup.
The Sabbath is for us, that we might be restored by delight in the goodness in the world. And not only what is already here, but what is to come. The Sabbath is a foretaste of this world redeemed, the Earth made new.
That’s what makes the Sabbath a gift to us each week. And that’s what draws us to create a more just society, where everyone can have a weekly day of rest, to lay down the burdens of work and household labor and simply delight in God’s goodness.
Celeste Kennel-Shank, a former MWR assistant editor, is an editor and community gardener in Chicago.