Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. (Deu 5:12 NRS)
Most Saturdays my husband and I practice Sabbath. Simply put, on Saturday, we trust God to take care of all the things we are putting on hold so that we can rest. We start by lifting up a prayer of thanks and lighting a candle that will burn all day. Then we really rest doing whatever feels right – we hike, we bike, we read, we watch a movie. We think Sabbath was the greatest invention since sliced bread. We look forward to it every week. We really miss it when we have to skip a week. We have noticed how much more worn out we get during the weeks when we haven’t had a Sabbath.
Jesus and his disciples were serious about the practice of Sabbath. In fact, the day Christ was buried, the next day was Sabbath. So the women followers of Jesus observed Sabbath the next day instead of grieving at his tomb. It wasn’t until the day after Sabbath that they went to the tomb again.
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how Jesus’ body was laid. Then they returned, and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luk 23:55-56 NRS)
As serious as they were about Sabbath keeping, Jesus and his followers also understood that keeping Sabbath wasn’t an unbreakable rule. Like all rules, love trumps. When the disciples were hungry on the Sabbath, they broke the Sabbath rule in order to get food.
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” (Mat 12:1-2 NRS)
When someone needed healing on the Sabbath, Jesus broke the Sabbath rule and healed the man.
Jesus said, “…it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. (Mat 12:12-14 NRS)
This rule breaking for the sake of doing good got Jesus in a lot of trouble. It is what eventually led to his death. But it tells us something about Jesus and about following Jesus. As important as keeping the Sabbath was – Jesus’ love always won out.
Jesus’ followers recognize when a rule should be observed and when a rule should be broken for the sake of love. What rules are you keeping that stop you from loving others?
April is a progressive Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.