Sabbath, Zombies, and your Sanctuary in Time

Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death.  Therefore the Israelites shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout their generations, as a perpetual covenant.  It is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel that in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested, and was refreshed.” – Exodus 31:15-17 –

How often are you exhausted?

Physically exhausted from work, sickness, or lack of sleep
Emotionally exhausted from family crises, grief, trouble, pandemics, jobs, politics, and sooo much more.
Existentially exhausted from, in the words of Douglas Adams, “life, the universe, and… everything.”

What if, the solution wasn’t within each problem or issue but… with your timing? What if the universe had a rhythm, a pulse, a heartbeat of work and rest and… one of the main reasons we’re exhausted is because we’re not in time with the universe.

A big claim I know but stick with me… it’s Biblical.

OK here’s the overview, and the Bible Study is at the end for any who want to follow along… and you should… check me and see if you agree.

The Overview:

Let’s start with a fantastic cultural term that has great theological implications… Un-dead.

It comes from our fantasy, horror, and role-playing communities. Un-dead. It’s a terrifying concept that a body would be shambling through the day but not really alive… That’s one of the reasons why zombies and vampires are so scary, they look alive but inside… they’re not. The idea that you could be dead-but-still-living is horror movie gold precisely because it taps into our own fears of meaninglessness, or a life without purpose, or never really knowing who we are. A zombie is a human being (supposedly blessed with purpose) but now robbed of that purpose and soul… yet still walking around! Place a hoard of those nest to a small group of real live human beings trying to survive you’ve got some compelling drama – if you can stomach the grotesque aspects of those films. I usually can’t. I personally think that over-the-top movie gore is a bit theologically offensive, but that’s just me, I’m a “life is sacred” kind of guy. While I may not have watched all too much of the films or shows, I have read a few novels and short stories in the genre. Certainly enough to understand why it’s scary.

Un-dead… A state you do not want to be in.

The concept begs a question of practical application if you’re bold. Are we sometimes… zombies. How many “zombie days” have you lived? I know my count is nonzero. I have had entire days where I have entered the day so exhausted that I never… really… lived on that day. I made it through, and “accomplished my tasks”, but… I wasn’t really alive.

The Bible’s answer for this is Sabbath. It’s almost like God knows and understands that the stress and pressure of living in a broken creation, being surrounded by sin (both ours and other people’s) is quite literally enough to make you a dead-person-walking. Adam and Eve were created in a garden, but they were kicked out into a wilderness. And folks, people in the wilderness need a break, or spiritually you shift from “alive” to “un-dead”.

Sabbath is that rest, it’s a sanctuary in time, a way for you to be in tune with the nature of creation itself. Every seven days…

You

Stop

Working

And on that one day off, you spend that time remembering who you are. In my family we always begin Sabbath with a prayer and a brief non-exhausting scripture reading. On Sabbath we make space for everyone to enjoy their hobbies, to hang out with friends, and to have honest to goodness uninterrupted and unstressed “family time.” We also give people space to be alone, because all-day-family-time can be work for mom and dad. When the kids were younger, we called them “you-pick days” and after prayer and Bible Study we rolled dice to determine the order of the day and then each person got to pick one thing they wanted to do and everyone shared it together, then the rest of the day was free (even if you just use it to nap). Time with God, time away from work, time to be you, time to create, and time to re-invest in vital relationships. It is quite literally life-giving.

God knows you need this, and this is the spiritual discipline that the Holy Spirit can use to revive and enliven you for whatever the next six days of work include. One day of Sabbath makes you better at everything else that you do in the next week! So, carve that time out in your schedule. The super traditional Sabbath is from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, but I believe there’s a bit of flexibility (see Bible Study below). Defend that time against work, against soccer games, against your own desire to “keep going”, against our prideful need to be always productive and discover the presence of Christ in a Holy time of rest.

Shake off the un-death that the world presses upon you. Set your burdens before the Lord, take a Holy time of rest, and know what it means to be alive in Christ.

The Bible StudyWhere is all of this found in scripture?

  • In Genesis, the first creation story shows that all of creation is spoken into existence by the Lord. It’s done in a pattern of “six and one” (Gen 1:1-2:3). That is to say six days of work one day of rest. The pattern is explicitly recorded.
  • In Exodus, when the Lord speaks the 10 commandments to His chosen people, teaching them how they were made to live, revealing the base-code of humanity and the universe… commandment number 4 references the creation story, and the period of “six on, one off”. A name is given for this day off, it is called The Sabbath.
  • Throughout the Levitical, Numerical, and Deuteronomic law books the Sabbath is reinforced over, and over again. Just a few examples: Lev 6, Deut 4, Num 15, and there are many more.
  • Jesus taught about the Sabbath in Mark 2 and said that “the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath…”
  • In the book of Acts chapter’s 10 and 15, a significant set of Old Testament rituals and practices are set aside, or marked as completed, as the church moves forward but… Sabbath is never explicitly discussed or labeled with a “keep it” or “leave it”
  • Paul in Colossians 2 argues against a strict religious keeping of the Sabbath (especially with the assumption that doing so is the only way to connect with God).
  • But the author of Hebrews uses the concept of Sabbath in one of the most beautiful (in my opinion) works of theology that sets up a fantastic definition of who Jesus is.

So… a lot of people would read through this and think: Well, am I supposed to keep the Sabbath or not? What does God want?

I think that’s the wrong question. Instead I believe we should find the key to interpretation in the words of the Son of God: the Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.

It’s clear to me on a read through of the scriptures above that Sabbath has a purpose, and that purpose is not so basic as “do-it-because-God-said-so.” Sabbath was created by God because we need a period of rest from our work. God knows that this world and its trials and brokenness will break us if we do not rest. God knows that we will get completely lost in the flurry of everything around us if we do not stop, regularly, to remember who we are and remember who God is. Look at Peter on the water in Matthew 14. Eyes-on-Jesus, everything’s fine. Eyes-off-Jesus, and you’re drowning.

Maybe Sabbath is a spiritual discipline, where we take one day a week and remember who we are. We connect with our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. We invest in our family, friends, and vital relationships. We finally find an hour for our hobby. And the vice-grip of the pressure of the world is released so we can breathe and return to our work in the morning with a true and honest perspective.

Maybe this is the difference between living through a week God gives us or shambling through it like a zombie. Maybe this is one of the keys to life, and a way to avoid the living-death of exhaustion.

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