Saturday, 6 February 2021
"Six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, a holy convocation. You shall do no work on it; it is the Sabbath of the Lord in all your dwellings." Leviticus 23: 3
In my Bible reading a few days ago I read through the book of Leviticus that is full with rules and regulations. And when I arrived in Leviticus 23 about “The Seasons and feasts”, I bumped several times to the statements: ‘do no regular work, but to hold the holy convocation (the sacred assembly)’.
While the subject of Sabbath day was never new for me, we read it as one of the Ten Commandments that I knew by heart since I was a kid – I never really noticed this pattern of “stop working, this is a holy day” was actually required by God (in the Old Testament) to be repeated several times a year, on the days of seasons and feasts.
Reading the same thing repeated again and again made me realise that God meant it. Sabbath is a day of rest, Sabbath is a day of stop from regular, daily business and Sabbath is the day to come in a gathering – a holy one, means God is supposed to be the centre of that very day.
When I was young we were never being intentionally made aware of the meaning of Sabbath day. We learned about it as we learn about Mozes, the Exodus and the Ten Commandments. We (my family) did it (quite) faithfully to go to the church every single Sunday and while we were always busy taking part in the service in the church, other than that other business went like normal days. Sundays are the days to catch up with our laundries, or eating together as a family. Cooking, cleaning and other things went just like any other days of the week.
When I grew up and lived alone, it went practically the same. And when I got married and began my own family, Sunday is practically the busiest day of the week. There’s no way we would sacrifice the leisure we got to get on Saturday, when my husband was finally home, not doing his busy office works, or not going to Paris, the kids are free from school, and I could enjoy a break from the full-rushing (and yelling) mornings of the school days. Saturday is too “holy” to be filled with house chores, and of course beside waking up late, Saturday gives us a chance to go out the whole day, exploring the cities or the playgrounds from late mid of day until evening, rushing into dinner and later pushing the kids to sleep.
And Saturday (or actually Sunday) is the day of ‘big’ expectations. Those big chores that I decide not to be handled by me alone like cleaning the bathroom, deep-vacuuming and mopping, those works that require manly muscles, I push them all into the weekend, in hope that my loving husband will tackle them all one by one. But of course, he won’t stain his Saturday with all those dirty items.
So Sunday is always our last day to do everything. The day I hope that I will get my laundry done so everything is ready for Monday. The day I rush to do a big batch of cooking in order to have more relaxed school days. The day I found that my husband is not bugged by the ‘big’ expectations so I force myself to do those lists by myself, again in order not to ruin the weekdays that are already so full with a grim forecast.
Before my (repeated) cancer days, we often excused ourselves from going to church on Sunday because of those reasons above. We were often too tired from going all day on Saturday, or we didn’t do many things on the days before – from Monday to Saturday, and Sunday is the redemption day – all must be done today! Gone all the way every essence of Sabbath Day!
When we moved to Utrecht and joined our current church – a Dutch Reformed church, I never knew or imagined that there are actually people in this modern European life who practice the Sabbath day in a black on white meaning. No working on Sunday, only going to church in the morning and evening. No turning on the washing machine. No vacuuming. No sport. No play. In the earlier days I heard they even suggested no cars being used (unless going to church). And the tradition was very strong that all shops were actually banned from being open on Sundays until just several years ago.
I know Sabbath is not an easy topic. I – and many normal people, are easily being drifted from one extreme to the others. Many people here in the Netherlands left the church because they felt suffocated by the rules and orders, including the rules of the Sabbath day. On the other hand, even as a Christian, I also try to be careful not to be trapped in the charming beauty of the rules and tradition, to the point that I forget the essential truth of being the follower of Christ. To be His means I’m free, I’m redeemed, I’m not defined by my ability to keep the rules. I’m defined by His death on the cross, and His resurrection. And that two should be more than enough.
But I can’t fool myself to just ignore the urge I read in these passages. It was repeated again and again, on the day of the feasts, including weekly Sabbath days, the Israelites were required to stop the regular work and to make a sacred assembly. Again and again God emphasized those special days, you have to stop working. Or you die!
If it wasn’t so important, He won’t be that agitated about it, right? 😀
In my research about the meaning and interpretation of Sabbath day in the New Testament (and nowadays life), I came to some commentaries and learned a few things; I learned that God did and does require that we set apart one day of our seven days to be focused on Him alone. Rejoicing and enjoying His goodness, connecting to Him and focusing on Him alone, instead keeping our minds full of our daily burdens.
“Six days shall work be done”- you have bloody six days to get your moves together, brush that toilet and get done with the mop. But this one day, stop. You are Mine. You have six days to twine and whine about how busy your life is, but the seventh day is the day of rest, you are Mine. Well, of course it’s not like that. Every single day belongs to the Lord. Every single day should be filled with the remembrance of Him, and thanksgiving. But the commentary further explained that the commandment itself is not to set apart the Sabbath day alone, but also to do the works done in six days. Coincidently I read this ‘six days’rule almost in parallel in the book of Elisabeth Elliot that I just finished. The six and one could be interpreted that God has indeed designed that proportion – six of productive days, and one of rest. It shouldn’t be half-done. The practice of Sabbath day is actually meaningless when you abstain from work on the six days.
And to be honest that was the regular pattern of mine. If I had to be truthful, the mundane Monday to Friday are never really bad. While the children take most of my time and energy, while the chores seem to be endless, I still usually have time to do many (actually a lot, and not useful) leisure activities. Me being lazy – what a strong word, but sometimes you just have to be honest with yourself – just push everything to weekend so I feel like I’m not doing every single thing alone, but together with my husband. Sunday is the black-goat day, where all the mistakes and delays can be undone and catched up, because eventually God is not really important.
The Sabbath is still a difficult topic to me. I need deeper learning and understanding. I need wisdom from above. But these things I’ve just written make me realise that I must take the Sabbath seriously. God wants my heart, God wants my energy, my focus at least 1/7 of my times. God wants my dedication of my role on the rest of the 6/7 parts. God wants me to be able to enjoy Him, fully, rest in Him, and rest free from the fret of undone tasks, of the mundane chores.
It’s not easy to do that. It takes a lot of strong will to fill my Saturday with chores instead of lazing around. It takes a full reminder that I shouldn’t spill my time on Friday so I can rest on Sunday. It takes a great conscience the whole weekdays that I want to set Sunday apart for my rest in God so I have to get things done as much as possible before Sunday comes.
It’s not easy and it’s confusing. But still I feel like it has to be done, giving God the honor of one day of my week by making myself less busy as possible from the tasks that obviously can be done on the rest of the week. Amen!