What comes to mind when you think of the Sabbath? Is your mind flooded with verses, or memories of cleaning the house in preparation? Do you think of church services with fellowship, or solitude as you worship in God’s creation? Do you think of a day off, or a day of rest? Do you think of a day that wouldn’t end, or a blessing that you wished would be extended a little longer? Do you think of a laundry list of don'ts, or a day of blessed celebration? This week's episode of ANN InDepth explores the importance and nuance of the Sabbath with ANN hosts Sam Neves and Jennifer Stymiest talking with Adventist Church’s social media writer, Ruth Hodge.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church is one of the few Christian denominations that acknowledge the Sabbath. For those raised in the church, it is observed as a time of rest, a weekly pause to worship. Growing up with parents who may have encouraged regular church attendance, could have made observing the Sabbath another weekly ritual, with similar scripts of its importance shared in Sabbath school, sermons, and at home. However, entering into the adult world without community or parental enforcement impresses you with a choice: keep the Sabbath, or ignore it. In western capitalist societies, the value of work may seem to outway the value of rest. If our value is impressed in hours worked, money made, and goals accomplished, then it is easy for the still small voice that invites us to rest and worship to be drowned out by the ever increasing white noise of hustle culture. Another temptation may be to take a day off, but do it according to secular norms. Weekend rest may be brunch with friends, a night out, or catching up on housework or errands. With Covid restrictions lifting incrementally across the US and Europe, the eager rush to re-enter a world that had been shut down for almost a year may seem like a chance to make up for lost time.
Even for those raised observing the Sabbath, it can seem like nothing more than a day off. But what if it were more? Sabbath is often simplified to only exist in relation with what we don’t do. Don’t work. Don’t play sports. Don’t consume secular entertainment. Don’t go to restaurants. However, in her social media campaign to show the importance of the Sabbath, Ruth Hodge has explored its fingerprints across our Christian understanding: “the Sabbath is intertwined with everything”. From creation, to salvation, to identity, the Sabbath is a present connection and a living monument to every facet of the Christian experience. Observing the Sabbath causes emotional, spiritual, physical, mental, and financial ripple effects that benefit not only you but the people in your life. Observing the Sabbath allows us to build a community of unrushed, focused connection. Even for non believers, our observance provides benefits. An example discussed in the episode is not going to stores or restaurants on the Sabbath. Hodge observes:
“People argue that they'll continue to work anyway and I'm like, yeah they probably will because they haven't heard the beauty of the Sabbath message yet, which is definitely our role, but it makes a difference even if it's five minutes that they can just take a breather”
The influence of the Sabbath goes far deeper than a ”day off”. Sabbath is a gift that stands as a monument to God’s creation, acting as a weekly reminder that our value is found in our identity in Him. The Sabbath is a holy separation. Throughout the week, we occupy our roles as friend, partner, parent, friend, employee, boss, citizen, etc. yet, for 24 hours, we are offered a time to set ourselves apart and remind ourselves that, though important, our roles do not define us. The Sabbath is a reconnection to our true identity which can only be found in Christ. Too often, the Sabbath is seen as a topic to be proven valid rather than a gift to be extended. Instead, it is vital that we remind non-Adventists that this day of rest is an open invitation which is not ours to control or narrowly define. Rather than launching into legalism, Jesus’ example shows that we are to live its liberty. The Sabbath example is seen in every point of its application throughout the bible, from creation, to covenant, to captivity, to Christ, the soul of this day has permeated throughout. “To hear adventists be able to articulate the liberty around [Sabbath] and know that that idea of liberty is actually the the main premise of this” Hodge says, “God frames that in the ten commandments, He says ‘I brought you out of slavery. Here it is, here's a day off’”.
If introduced in the constraints of legalism, the Sabbath can seem like an oppressive practice made to enforce religious guilt. Hodge desires to help heal those misconceptions through the ministry website: “the website is going to be quite upfront about the idea that there's a lot of trauma, a lot of brokenness, that has resulted out of individuals and communities and organizations”. In being open about confronting the confusion surrounding the Sabbath, and gradually rebuilding understanding based on scripture. “In fellowshiping with one another and seeing one another in church or in faith community and being like, “hey, I just wanted to remind you that God actually loves you, and that I do too.” Hearing those words of affirmation and seeing that in community well as in churches, then it's just such an extended blessing.``