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Lockdown Sabbath

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Posted by George Crowder, 9 Feb 2021

George Crowder explains why we need to rediscover the Christian discipline of Sabbath

Sabbath-keeping is not the most talked-about Christian discipline, but I believe we need to take another look at it, right now.

In lockdown, everything is skewed and out of kilter.  Some people are locked in with nothing to do and some people are tired out with too much on their plate. 

Many churches are online only, and many simply broadcast material with little more interaction than a viewing figure and a few comments on the screen. Though there is evident joy in being gathered in the same place, those who still have physical meetings are very restricted. 

Lockdown is a hall of mirrors when we try to make sense of intentional rest and corporate worship, the building blocks of the Sabbath.  Like many other things, the Sabbath seems lost in a toxic fog of suspended animation and frantic coping strategies.  Yet, like many other things, lockdown has merely accelerated a trend that was already in process and forced us to address it.

For the Old Testament people of God, Sabbath-keeping was a serious matter, a life and death divine ordinance.  The Sabbath was not only a reminder of their covenant relationship with the Lord, it was also a reminder that he is the creator. 

When God rested on the seventh day, he showed that the purpose of his creation was rest.  When God’s people rested on the Sabbath day, their lives were tangibly aligned to this ultimate purpose. 

Since the fall of humanity and the curse of sin in Genesis 3, all lives touched by God were invested in his restoration plan for creation, and Sabbath-keeping was part of that.

The writer to the Hebrews connects the New Testament church with this continuing hope.

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.  Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:9-11)

This Sabbath-rest is, of course, nothing less than the glory of the new creation, inaugurated by the return of Christ, fulfilling the whole narrative of redemption revealed in scripture.  We enter into this rest through faith in the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.

Thus, for Christians, Sabbath-keeping is a holding pattern for the new creation, an investment of hope in God’s restoration plan and an expression of faith in the Lordship of Christ.
During lockdown we wait for the restoration of ‘normality’.  In this time of restriction and privation, we hold on to hope by grasping at whatever approximates or connects with the reality of this hope, whether with masks and social distancing, or with communications technology.

Sabbath-keeping fulfils the same role for Christians waiting for the new creation.  We keep the Sabbath because we are still looking forward to the new creation, and, indeed, we are part of the new creation. God will restore the world to how he intended it to be.  It will be a better ‘normal’, even better than Eden.  It will be a holy city where we can rest and enjoy God’s glory.
Sabbath is a simple formula with two elements: rest from work one day a week and a gathering of the local church family to worship God together.  Whilst best on the same day, and best on a Sunday, sometimes, as in the case of clergy, one or other will be on a different day, but both are essential.

In church life, most clergy and church workers have let slip the vital need for intentional rest and are suffering with exhaustion and disillusionment.  Alongside this, because of the current crisis, church members have found themselves in a state of disorientated drift and the worship connection has dropped so to speak.  Yet again, both are cases of acceleration rather than new development.
If we are invested in hope and desire to speak of it, we need to rediscover the Sabbath.

This article was first published in the Church of England Newspaper

George Crowder is vicar of St John's Over and Regional Director of Church Society in the north.

Photo by Sincerely Media

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