It’s Saturday morning and the boys are still asleep. Outside the condo, a soft breeze is blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. The water is calm. The overcast sky is a welcome rest from the summer heat. Maybe when the boys wake up we’ll drive down to the pier and visit the farmers market. But there’s no hurry. It’s a perfect, dreamlike morning.
But like a dream it doesn’t last. It never does. The calm dissipates as quickly as the morning clouds. A familiar, unholy restlessness insinuates itself into the moment. I find myself calculating the remaining hours of vacation like a declining checkbook balance. In two days we have to leave it all behind and go back to work. Restless anxiety reaches out from the future with a ghostly, bony finger to steal joy from this morning.
I am rested, but still restless. It is the seventh day, but not the Sabbath.
It is a recurring theme. I’ve been keeping a journal for more than a decade and it’s the same story again and again. I see a pattern emerging.
. . .
The rabbis had a rule called the Sabbath Day’s Journey. It said that on the Sabbath you could walk so far and no farther. Step beyond the allotted 2,000 cubits and you violated the commandment. The Sabbath Day’s Journey drew a geographical boundary around the day of rest.
My life has been framed by the Sabbath. The fourth commandment loomed large in the eccentric fundamentalist church of my youth. Our life and theology revolved around the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a reminder of the perfect peace in the Garden of Eden. It was a prophetic picture of creation’s restoration in the millennial kingdom of God. The observance of the Sabbath on the seventh day was the sign of the one, true church.
I left that one, true church many years ago but its doctrine of the Sabbath still has a grip on me. I’m a Presbyterian now, and we don’t talk much about Sabbath. The Reformed tradition is conflicted on the doctrine. Calvin said the fourth command was a prophetic shadow of Christ’s redemption and no longer obligatory for Christians. The Westminster Divines said the moral obligation was transferred to Sunday. But most people in our pews don’t think about it at all. I do. Often.
I am Sabbath keeper. I am a Sabbath breaker. I am a Sabbath seeker. Sometimes it seems the thing I seek more than anything else.
. . .
The first words of Jesus in the Gospel of John are a question. Some disciples are skulking behind him and he turns around and asks them, “What do you want?” Their answer feels timid and awkward, a lost opportunity. They want to know where he’s staying.
My answer is different. What do I want? I want Sabbath. Not the legalism of my youth, not the rules about what is and is not permitted, but the freedom of perfect rest. The relatedness. The completeness. The day lit by eternity that cannot be stolen away. A protected day, a day to rest my life’s burdens at the feet of Jesus.
A day unlike a vacation. A vacation is a leaving. Sabbath is arriving.
C.S. Lewis speaks about the long journey toward heaven and the refreshing ‘inns along the way.’ He warns travelers not to mistake the pleasant rest stops for the destination. I think he would say that the week at the beach might be a foretaste of something, but that no vacation in this world can satisfy the real longing.
Bono says, ‘I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.’ Spurgeon replies: ‘Nonsense! Don’t tell me there’s no rest for the people of God today. What is eschatological is realized in the presence of Christ among his people.’
Lord have mercy.
My Sabbath Day’s Journey isn’t 2,000 paces. It is the long walk toward eternal, eschatological rest. It is the aim of my work. It is the desire of my heart. It is the day when the hard work is done, when sin doesn’t intrude, when there is peace in the garden.
Along the way I wrestle with anxiety, some depression and grief, anger, frustration. I have the voice of Jesus in my head, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest.’ And I half believe it. I hear the voice of a cult leader who’s been dead thirty years. I hear the voices of St. Paul, the Seventh Day Adventists, the Reformers, the Baptists, John Calvin, quacks, serious theologians, and gentle secular friends who think it’s all nonsense.
I spent a long season of my life arguing about the Sabbath, about law and grace. I’m tired of those arguments. What I want is not the arguments but the rest from the arguments. Freedom, not law. Release of burdens, not adding to them. A gift instead of a command.
I want a Sabbath morning that doesn’t end.