The Sabbath and Jubilee Traditions
Exodus 20:8-11 (Lent 3 Year B)
Deuteronomy 5:12-15 (Epiphany 9, Year B; Proper 4, Year B)
One of the most important themes of the Hebrew Scriptures is our biblical family's liberation from bondage in Egypt and the responsibility of the rest of their descendants to work for justice and liberation for others in light of it. One of the key expressions of that principle is Sabbath, so our first weekly Bible study starts there.
The Hebrew Scriptures give two reasons for celebrating the Sabbath and they are both found in the “remember the Sabbath” provisions of the two versions of the Ten Commandments, known also as the “Decalogue.” The first centers Sabbath in the creation story. There, Sabbath is understood as an integral part of the creation process and of the covenant that God made with humanity. God does not create without rest, and humans cannot be without it. So, according to this version of its origins, to celebrate Sabbath and honor creation, we must rest. For one day (or week, or year, see Leviticus 25) we are liberated from the bonds of work.
The second understanding of the origins of Sabbath centers it in the act of liberation itself, initially from bondage in Egypt. Here, God frees us and liberates us from slavery and the way we commemorate Sabbath is by remembering that liberation and honoring the acts of liberation for others. Sabbath in the second understanding is a time for wearing Amnesty International Wrist Bands and writing letters to Colombia demanding the release of journalists and union organizers, or writing to the U.S. government demanding the release of children held in Guantanamo Bay. According to the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath is a liberation event. It is more than just visiting the mall, watching the game, or worshiping in church. Resting from work and honoring liberation is actually worship.
- What would a Sabbath that honored the creation look like in our society if it was practiced?
- Similarly, what would a Sabbath that honored liberation of those in bondage look like today? What should we do to keep that kind of Sabbath?
- What would life be like if all of the schools of the US were required to have the Ten Commandments in their classrooms, and all of the students, their parents, their teachers, their principals, and their school boards were required to obey them?