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Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Remember the Sabbath

So far I have posted my meditations on the first three commandments (see the first one here, second, here and the third, here). I prefaced this series of posts with what I called the heart of the commandments. In reflecting on the fourth commandment, I would like to return to some of the ideas I shared there.

If you remember your Moses story from Sunday School or from Cecil de Mille, you will remember the scene when Moses brought down the two tablets of stones from the Mount. We often imagined that God wrote five four commandments on one and five six on the other.

I am beginning to think that perhaps this was not the case.

You see, Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is like the first, and it is to love our neighbor as ourselves. So, it just might have been the case that perhaps right from the beginning, God emphasized the priority of those two greatest commandments. As I
pointed out before, the words, "ten commandments" were not specifiically used in the Bible. In fact, in both the passages where these commandments were enumerated(Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5), there are actually more than just ten. Further, in other passages, more commandments were given that were either elaborations of the core, or additional injunctions relating to specific ritual and ceremonial aspects of Old Testament Religion. However, in this series of meditations, I am using the traditional Protestant formulation of the Ten Commandments.

Let's come back to think about the greatest commandments, the two tablets and what I think they stood for. I believe that rather than think that there were five commandments written on one each tablet, perhaps, it is quite appropriate to think that on one of the tablets were written the first of the greatest commandments and on the other, the second of the greatest commandments.

Or, perhaps, the first two were spelt out on one tablet and the third through the tenth were spelt out on the the second. If each commandment were spelt out on the stone tablets, and the stone tablets were organized by the two greatest commandments, then perhaps the fourth commandment was found on the second stone tablet, not the first.

Why do I say that?

Regardless of which stone tablet the fourth commandment was written it is important to note that the fourth commandment, says Jesus, was for man, not man for the Sabbath. In and of itself, the Sabbath, is not holy. It is holy only in the sense that it was given to man to be kept as a separate, sacred day.

When I was a spunky, fiesty, youth, I used to argue with the Seventh-Day Adventists, and anyone else who was in the least interested and bothered to argue with me, about which day we were supposed to keep the Lord's Day. I argued that although in the Old Testament, the Sabbath (or Saturday) was separated as the holy day, in the New, Sunday, was supposed to be the Christian day since it is the Lord's day - the Day He rose from the dead. I smugly felt more spiritual that the church I went to kept Sunday as the Day of rememberance, and rested on Sunday, while the Adventists were "legalistic" in keeping the Old Testament day - Saturday. Then of course, in some states in Malaysia, the Islamic state governments made everyone go to work on Sunday and rested only on Friday, so that Churches had to change their Day of Rememberance to Fridays. Some die-hard Christians continued to meet on Sundays in observance of the Lord's Day, but had to change their meetings to the evenings, and of course our Adventist friends met on Saturdays. The churches that met on Fridays? Well, we assumed they were backsliders, lovers of the world and capitulating to the world's standards. So we prayed for them.

Looking back from the vantage point of where God was proclaiming the commandments, and understanding the commandments from the standpoint of Christ's two greatest commandments, however, reveal a few things:

(1) The commandment to keep the Sabbath holy was given for man's sake - as part of the "loving yourself" part of the second greatest commandment.

(2) In fact, the second set of commandments began at the third commandment, where the emphasis is living a life that is worthy of our high calling (Eph 4: )

(3) We follow the spirit of the fourth commandment, if we remember to take time off for rest - spiritual, emotional, physical, relational, financial, and in fact, in all areas of our lives.

(4) It doesn't matter when the day is, as long as there was a regular day for the church to get together, and to rest, to worship and to connect.

Applying (3) relates to the need for us to go on fasts - fasting from food, fasting from our physical desires and fasting from our daily routine (or taking a vacation). It also relates to the need to have solitude (daily devotional times as well as extended times of retreat in order to re-calibrate, rejuvenate and refresh.

Living in this fast paced, drive-through, everything-to-go world of hours, sometimes, we forget to stop and check our pulse, rest awhile, and re-charge our batteries. Even in terms of work, career and interpersonal relationships there are times when we need to step aside to re-evaluate, re-think and re-structure our priorities, our strategies and our habits.

Most important of all, the call for remembering the Sabbath is a call to remember that we are not our own. We are stewards of our bodies, our time, our lives. We have to take time out to take stock of how we are going precisely because we are to ensure that our lives are lived according to the mission that our Creator has planted within us. So, there is a time for corporate re-synchronization where we take time to be with community and re-establish our connection with God by connecting with each other. There is also the need to remove ourselves from the crowd to the recalibration of our soul and to allow God to touch us all over again.

The Sabbath Day is more than just a day. It is a holy time to be set aside with the Holy One. So it is a day to celebrate our relationship with our Creator, to refocus that the center of life is relationship, beginning with the Relationship with our Creator, to our Relationship with ourselves and our Relationship with our community, and the world about us.