Settling down onto the sofa, I opened my Bible, turned on the classic collection of Heritage Singer favourites and began to relax. It was Sabbath. The orange of sunset had seeped into inky blackness, and I was ready to rest. It was just me, and God.
Then, I heard a noise.
“Buzz, buzzzz, buzzzzz”
I glanced at the seat beside me and saw that the noise was coming from my phone. Recognising the name of a friend, I promptly decided that whatever she was calling about could probably wait, and let the call ring off.
A few moments later, I heard the sound again.
“Buzz, buzzzz, buzzzzz”
It was the same friend. Slightly annoyed at such a rude disruption, I ignored the call once more, only to be met by a different noise.
“Ba-ding, Ba-ding, Ba-ding”
With a sneaking suspicion that such a barrage of contact was not just about the latest instalment of New Girl, or an enquiry about borrowing some washing up liquid, I read the messages, and was met with the cry of a friend in need. I invited her over, albeit still somewhat frustrated at the interruption of my sacred repose. We talked and ate together. I listened. We spoke about the issues she was facing, and a little about the Sabbath and about Jesus. When she left late that evening, I realised then that if I hadn’t eventually answered my phone, there would have been no opportunity for extending the blessing of Sabbath. Frustration had dissolved into thankfulness: for the opportunity to be able to serve her and to hopefully speak Christ’s invitation to relieve the burdens of the weary into her current situation (Matthew 11:28).
Too often, I have fallen into the trap of believing that the Sabbath is solely about me. Indeed, Scripture displays a strikingly different picture. Notice the commandment, though beginning with the individual, ends with the stranger (Exodus 20:8-10), something we are reminded of again in Isaiah 56, where salvation for the outsider is conjoined with the notion of Sabbath.
Jump to the New Testament, and time and time again, we see Jesus healing on the Sabbath: making the lame and crippled walk (John 5:1-15, Luke 13:10-17), giving a blind man sight (John 9:1-12), rejuvenating a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6) – each time bringing restoration not just to the body, but also offering it to the soul. He does not take a passive approach to restorative rest, but instead adopts one that extends it to others, inviting all to comprehend and experience the Sabbath’s fullness through practically showing the heart of its purpose.
The Sabbath means many different things to me – it means freedom from the idea that it is work that defines me (Exodus 20:9), and shows that instead I am a daughter of the Creator (Exodus 20:11). It serves as a reminder that I can rest in the establishment of my identity through what Christ has done on the cross. It displays gracious and undeserved salvation and rescue from sin’s slavery (Deuteronomy 5:15). It confirms God’s concern and care for humanity (Mark 2:27), looks forward to eternity (Isaiah 66:23), and provides much needed and much welcomed physical rest (Exodus 20:10-11).
In the lead up to the instance with my friend, I had been learning a lot about the Sabbath in the terms above. However even then, when it reached a practical application of these realities, selfishness still had its initial stronghold on my heart. That evening, I realised how I had failed to grasp an integral part of what the Sabbath really meant – that the command is just as much to look outwards than inwards, offering a unique opportunity to show others what restorative, redemptive rest practically looks like, and to invite them to enter it as well.