Christine Staples 8-21-22
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
The fourth commandment is to “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy.” But what does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy? As with many laws, it’s a little vague and subject to interpretation. We humans naturally want to make sure we don’t break the laws, so in the absence of more guidelines or amendments, for millennia different faith leaders have come up with directives based on their own interpretations of the law – and the interpretations mostly seem to be of the “don’t do this or you’ll burn!” variety, and very little of the “be sure to do this – this is really keeping the Sabbath holy!” type.
Here are a few examples: Puritan settlers in New England weren’t supposed to cook or light a stove on the Sabbath. One prominent settler returned home from a three year voyage on the Sabbath; his wife greeted him at the door and they kissed on the threshold where everyone could see it; he got into really big trouble for it. You could not ride – except to go to church – or perform any work. You were expected to go to church all day long, and if you dozed off there, in many churches there was someone posted there to tickle or poke you to wake you up – a feather on one end, a thorn on the other end of the poking stick. In other churches, things were even more punitive: if you fell asleep, or broke the Sabbath in any of these ways, you might be publicly shamed, fined, put in stocks, or whipped.
For centuries, you couldn’t buy alcohol in a store in Massachusetts on Sunday. (Restaurants and bars were another story!) Of all the people in the world, then-governor Mitt Romney overturned that law in 2003.
Even today, in Orthodox Jewish sects, there are many strict rules around using stoves, driving, or shopping on Shabbat.You aren’t supposed to leave the house carrying a “burden”, so many women with small children are unable to attend services unless their Rabbi comes up with a clever lawyerly work-around, like using phone lines to define the “walls” of the “house” or holy neighborhood.
This story Luke shares about Jesus doing a healing on the Sabbath is so fascinating! The Rabbi calls Jesus out in no uncertain terms for supposedly breaking the Sabbath; he considers healing to be “work”, and once again, I have to greatly admire Jesus’ truly lawyerly response to this. He not only shows us a deep and true example of what keeping the Sabbath holy looks like, he then uses arguments in its defense that the head of the Temple has to respect – healing is NOT work – it’s making it possible for the afflicted woman to rest. And Jesus thus lays out new guidelines for us for what it can look like to really keep the Sabbath holy.
But this still leaves us with a law that’s subject to interpretation: what does it mean to keep the Sabbath holy?
This morning we used the espresso machine, the toaster oven, the microwave, the electric kettle, the lights…. My husband just got back from Singapore yesterday; yes, we hugged! And he updated his online banking this morning. He and our daughter just drove to the marina to go swimming. I might go pick up a few things at Berkeley Bowl this afternoon. I produce concerts at St. Alban’s on Sundays – and I feel that it’s a ministry! None of those things feel wrong to me….
I’d like to invite you, my Friends in Christ, to share: what do you think are important ways to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?
I’ll start with a small one: I find gathering together on Zoom, where we are each celebrating in our kitchens, livingrooms, and studies, truly holy. Having Becky and Rick running the services, Kathryne Ann or Rick or Sandy recording Richard’s music, Susan or Deborah, Roseanne or Faith singing the psalms, the prayers for a broad swath of Creation and for each other; each of us taking turns presiding, reading scripture, and spending time with scriptural reflections – all these truly put me in mind of the early Christians, gathering in their homes.
What are some other ways we can remember the Sabbath and keep it holy?
Some of the suggestions from parishioners:
Spend time in nature.
Rest – doing vs. being.
Spend time with family.
Give thanks for all our blessings.
Eating together is a form of communion.
Reach out to friends who are far away.
Take care of our animals, clean ourselves.
Have quiet time at home.
Communicating: coffee hour at church.
Dressing up for church as a mark of respect.
(NOT dressing up for church – come as you are!)
Listen to sacred music.