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A Mid-Lenten Reflection on the Fourth Commandment

March 15, 2012

Very appropriately for the middle of Lent, our Old Testament Reading on March 11 included the call to make space for quiet that is given to us in the Fourth of the Ten Commandments. I invite you to spend a couple of minutes with me reflecting on it.

This Commandment begins: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work (Exodus 20:8-10a).

The Sabbath helps us remember that we are creatures, and the world manages to continue on just fine without us! It is helps us focus, stop, be still, and know that the LORD is God (Psalm 46:10). Observing the Sabbath hallows the rest of the week, the way that even a few minutes in quiet time with God hallows the rest of the day.

Maria Poggi Johnson, in her book Strangers and Neighbors: What I Have Learned about Christianity by Living among Orthodox Jews, writes:

I stopped by Ahuva’s for some reason one shabbos afternoon. An appetizing smell was coming from the kitchen; her children were playing or reading beside her. Something about the scene struck me as peculiar, but it took me a minute to figure out what it was. Ahuva has eight children, runs a business from home, volunteers, and sews most of the clothes for her own family and lots of other people besides. She is perpetually on the move. … In years I don’t think I had ever seen her sit down for three minutes at a time, even during meals. But here she was lying on the sofa with the little ones lolling against her. She couldn’t cook; she couldn’t sew; she couldn’t shop; she didn’t have to answer the phone. She just had to be. … [S]he was at the epicentre of a place where restfulness was absolutely palpable: not just an absence of activity but a real presence.

All of us need to experience this real presence of restfulness. ALL of us. The Fourth Commandment continues: [Y]ou shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns” (Exodus 20:10b). And so there is a social justice component to this Commandment. When we have this gift of rest ourselves, we can share this gift with others – indeed, we MUST share it with them.

May all of us know the joy of Sabbath rest spoken of in the Fourth Commandment, this Lent and always. Amen.

(This is adapted from the sermon at our March 11 Services. The picture at the top of this posting is from a blog by “Cara, Michael, Tovina, and Ari in Ohio.” The caption with the photo reads: “This past Shabbat we enjoyed our day of rest. Michael even caught a very rare nap. (Rare because he doesn’t like them not because some midget who lives in our house prevents them.) Tovina decided that a napping Daddy needed some extra attention so she selfishly gave him some.” A person named  Niki commented: “Not resting on Shabbat… resting on daddy…”.)

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