Sabbath: A Practice of Death

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailOur church recently worked through a series of teachings on Sabbath. Far beyond a weekly holiday, this biblical concept is loaded with meaning, with each additional layer creating a rich tapestry of teaching that displays the love and goodness of God in fresh ways.

This series of blog posts will aim to capture some of the highlights of discovery along the way.

In a short film by The Work of the People, Barbara Brown Taylor describes Sabbath as “a practice of death”. Here is some of what she means:

“At least for me, a decline in productivity is a practice in death. Productivity is the universal means of valuing one another. Sabbath is a weekly tonic built into the teaching and the fabric of the universe that once a week you’re supposed to quit being good for anything.”

She goes on to explain that the initial taste of Sabbath is typically pleasure. But if you live there for a while, it becomes unnerving. That nothing can be earned or achieved or measured, this unnerves many of us so intensely that it feels like a form of dying.

This thought becomes especially provocative when we consider Sabbath within the context of the Creation account. In approaching Day Seven, an obvious question gets asked: Why did God rest? If not for recharging or renewal, what was Yahweh doing?

At the least, He was making a statement.

Here’s what I mean.

Jesus-baptismIt’s a lot like Jesus’ baptism. As we read of his journey toward the John the Baptist and the Jordan River, another obvious questions gets asked: Why will Jesus be baptized? Sinless and in no need of forgiveness, Jesus still described the act as being for “righteousness’ sake”. Again, I say: At the very least, he was making a statement.

Jesus’ baptism, seeming unnecessary by our standards, stated the importance, value, and meaning of the act. And a most profound piece of baptism’s meaning revolves around an experience of death.

Likewise: God’s Sabbath, seeming unnecessary by our standards, stated the importance, value, and meaning of the act. And a most profound piece of Sabbath’s meaning revolves around an experience of death.

In a sentence, I’ve never met anyone who moves smoothly or naturally toward death. We are build to live; the drive for self-preservation is relentless. There’s a survival mechanism here that is right and proper. But a troubling paradox lies at the heart of the spiritual life. Being raised follows being laid down, and defeat is actually a pre-requisite to victory.

Life is found in death. Or as St. Francis said it: “It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.” And none of our feet move well in that direction.

So the next time you observe a baptism, remember Jesus’ statement act. The next time you squirm in stillness, recall God’s statement act. The Son’s soaking or the Father’s finishing: These are just two of many loving nudges to move us in a direction we’d never naturally choose – the way of life.


Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailYOUR TURN: Your input makes this post better!

  • You ever squirmed with stillness or silence? What do you think was behind that?
  • How do you process this paradox that we are so uninclined to move toward the death that brings life?

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More Fruitful than Feverish Activity

We are infatuated with ourselves.

Fearfully and wonderfully made, we are filled with power to shape the lives we lead, along with the world in which we live. Bearing the divine image, we are endowed with the potential for significant influence and impact. Indeed, we are weighty beings.

It is this “batting stance” that struggles to process a quote like the following:

“Coming before God in quietness and waiting upon Him in silence can accomplish more than days of feverish activity.”

wilderness2Tied into this realization, from A.W. Tozer, is a key strand of wilderness teaching. Ancient Israel was enrolled in a forty-year course toward grasping that their taking of the Promised Land would actually have nearly nothing to do with their ability to take Promised Land. This was to be deeply humbling and highly empowering at the same bizarre time!

So much of our lives are spent stressing over the challenges we must overcome or the standards we must meet. God wants His people clear that the works truly need undertaking within our surroundings and selves will require larger hands and finer craftsmanship. In these ventures, worshipful seeking holds more power than wild striving.

In a related theme, Barbara Brown Taylor describes the Sabbath rhythm as “a practice in death”. This is equally a theme of the Lenten season as well as a central strand to the Christian Gospel.

To be sure, God offers new life in His Son and fresh breath by His Spirit. It just requires a dead soul and a panting spirit to press us into a posture ready for such gifts.

That is why God loves the wilderness, because His people need it so.