Thoughts in My Head: “Remember the Sabbath”

I’m preaching this Sunday, the Sunday of empty pews, Labour Day weekend. As I’m preparing my sermon, here are a few of the rambling thoughts in my head:

Labour Day is the quintessential Canadian “holiday”—not just as a “vacation” but as a national “holy day.” It is not merely a day off work; it represents something larger: the end of summer, the start of school, the time for harvest, the first glance toward winter’s inevitable arrival. It involves a shift in our collective psyche, a change in our mode of being.

Toronto Labour Day Parade 1900sThe origins of Labour Day, though, have little to do with all this: Labour Day is about labour justice. It underscores the importance of safe and healthy working conditions for all, and in particular acknowledges the contributions of trade unions in advocating for labour justice for Canadians.

But maybe these two meanings of Labour Day can be brought together, through reflection on the biblical concept of “Sabbath.” For the ancient Israelites, Sabbath represented more than just a day off work; it was also to be something that shaped their collective psyche as God’s people, that influenced the way they lived in the world. And it was also strongly tied to social and creation justice, particularly in its manifestations as the Sabbath year, when the land itself rested, and the year of Jubilee, when also slaves were set free and property was returned to its original clan (Lev 25).

Jesus doesn’t command Sabbath-keeping, at least not in the strict interpretation of the Pharisees of his day. Rather, Jesus says, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath,” and, “People were not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for people,” and, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” In these teachings, and in Jesus’ Sabbath actions, Jesus points to a broad understanding of Sabbath centred on deeds of mercy and acts of justice, a sacred time and space reflecting the reign of God. Jesus brings Sabbath, in which we find rest for our souls even as we labour for God’s kingdom. Jesus brings Jubilee, in which God’s reign is good news of freedom for the oppressed and imprisoned and enslaved; it is good news of full shalom for all creation, both people and land.

Thus, we “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy” when we live in the rhythms of kingdom work and sacred rest, when we do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God day by day, regardless of the day of the week or the weekend of the year.

Just a few of the thoughts in my head this week…

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