Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sabbath During the Intertestamental Period

What did the observance of the sabbath look like during the intertestamental period?

Judaism began to divide into two strands. A more mystical and spiritual approach was found in Hellenistic circles. According to Philo, the sabbath was not intended for emptiness, but was to be devoted to spiritual studies. Palestinian Judaism, on the other hand, took a more literal or rigid approach that developed a stereotyped code specifying what could or could not be done. For example, the rescue of an animal from death was forbidden. Yet, certain practices were permitted such as priests serving in the temple, emergency life saving, and circumcision on the eighth day.

Despite burdensome restrictions, the sabbath was to be joyful, celebrated at home with rest and refreshment and corporately in public worship. Everything had to be prepared the day before, which in Jewish usage was on Friday, and the lamps lit at sunset. In the Didache, it was seen as a fast day, marking the death of Jesus. An extra meal was added to the normal two meals, the best clothes were worn, and guests invited. According to the Babylonian Talmud Pesahim, one half of the day was devoted to eating and drinking and the other half was dedicated to instruction in the things of God.

Source: Brown, Colin, General Editor, The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Vol. 3, Grand Rapids: MI, 1986, pp. 407-408.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Is it Really a Sin to Grieve on the Sabbath?

While our S3 Clergy Group was on retreat in Idaho, I had an opportunity to read The Sabbath by Abraham Heschel. I have struggled with how to apply Heschel's admonition that it is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath, and that sabbath should not be marred by grief. Quite frankly, this one thought has made it difficult for me to move on and appreciate other insights from Heschel that would be easier for me to embrace. My best friends' 21-year-old son was killed in action in Afghanistan on August 6. As I was standing and singing in a worship service recently with my daughter, grandson, and my son-in-law soldier home from Kuwait for 15 days of R&R, my emotions alternated between rejoicing to have my son-in-law home safe for a few days and weeping for my friends' loss of their son who was killed just a few weeks before he was scheduled to come home for R&R. In Romans 12:15, the Apostle Paul instructs, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep." In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul again writes, "let no one act as your respect to...a Sabbath day - things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance [or reality] belongs to Christ." Granted, Heschel is making a legitimate point as a general rule; however, it seems that the New Testament helps to remind us that authentic relationship allows us to accept the reality that we do not have to suppress, ignore, or deny our grief even during sabbath, while at the same time rejoicing that we are sons and daughters of the Most High who is with us in the midst of our sorrows.

Insights from Abraham Heschel's The Sabbath

Insights from The Sabbath by Abraham Heschel

1. Preparation for a holy day is as important as the day itself.

2. Sabbath is a time for joking and teasing.

3. Inner liberty depends upon being exempt from the domination of things and people.

4. Sabbath not only imitates God, but is a way to find God’s presence.

5. Sabbath is the presence of God in the world, open to the soul of man.

6. God is not in things of space, but in moments of time.

7. Observing Sabbath is both a refraining from work and a restful celebration.

8. Sabbath cares for the seed of eternity set in the soul.

9. The world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.

10. Sabbath is an opportunity to mend our broken lives.

11. The duty to work for six days is just as much a part of God’s covenant with man as the duty to abstain from work for one day.

12. Sabbath was given for joy, delight, rest and praise; it is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath.

13. Sabbath is no time for personal anxiety, and should not be marred by worry or grief.

14. Unless one learns how to appreciate Sabbath in this world, one cannot enjoy eternity in the world to come.

15. Rest on the Sabbath as if all your work were done.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Reflections from Retreat

We went on retreat together – we experienced the retreat as we become more than “to gether” but “to gather” with each other.

We went on retreat to rest – we discovered we could be restored.

'Still waters'
We went on retreat to pray and study – we found prayerful peace and the study of God in nature.

Stephen reflecting by the lake.

We went on retreat as friends and colleagues – we came back more like family.

Marty and Jeremy roaming the open range on quads in Idaho.

We went on retreat as pastors and teachers – we came home with the realization that we have more persons that we can pastor – and more people we can teach. 

We went, in some ways, for ourselves – on retreat, we experienced that we are best when we serve other and mentor others.

Wendell wielding a nail gun building for a purpose. We spent this day working on the construction of a new building for a Lutheran congregation. Yes, they allowed us to don hard hats and wield nail guns.
Our retreat taught us the significance of mentoring relationships – of sharing with others.