15 September 2007

The Third Commandment

Why this commandment? Why "remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy?" The Lutheran Symbols give a unique spin to this commandment - it's not about resting, but about sanctifying. And the Word of God is what sanctifies, what makes holy. It's about giving time to the Word so that the Word can do it's faith-delivering and faith-strengthening job.

The sad fact of our fallen condition is that no one can sustain saving faith on their own. Simply can't do it. We don't have the power to keep our faith alive, let alone strong! "Faith comes from hearing." This is not only true at the beginning, but it remains true throughout the Christian's journey. Cut off from the Word of God, a person's faith grows weaker and weaker and finally dies.

This has import, then, for both how we deal with delinquents (AWOL Christians) and how we deal with those who don't know if they believe at all. To the AWOLs who use their own freedom of will to turn away from the Word of God and the Sacraments of Jesus, we are called to speak a Word that they don't want to hear: WATCH IT! You are endangering yourself - body and soul - by cutting yourself off from the Words of Jesus that alone can keep you in repentance and faith. They don't want to hear that. They want to discuss whatever it was that led them to dislike pastor or parish. Utterly irrelevant! It's not a matter of shaping the congregation up to fit the tastes of every last person who walked away. It's calling those who walked away to repent and come back to hearing the Words of Jesus that give and sustain faith. Without those words, faith dies and so hope dies. For it is only faith that holds onto Christ, His forgiveness, His life unending.

And when we are dealing with those who are inquiring into the faith, the temptation is to turn the spotlot on themselves and to ponder: "Do I believe? Really? How do I know?" But we want them to stop looking at themselves and to keep them looking at our Lord and His sure and certain giving. So the best answer to give to a newby wondering about their faith is to say: "Listen to what Jesus says to you!" Listen to His promises. They'll give you faith. His Spirit is at work in them and wants to sustain you.

The third commandment is vital, then, for it is by hearing that faith comes, hearing the Word of God. Time to lose the excuses; time to cease the internal scouring for proof of faith; time to listen up to Jesus and let His Words do the job that His Spirit empowers them to do.


Jim said...

Not about physical rest, to be sure. But sanctifying the day to Christ brings us real, true rest.

"Come to me, all who are weary and heavey-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in hear, and you will find rest for your souls." Mt 11.28-29.

William Weedon said...


Amen! A rest of another sort, the kind St. Augustine meant: "Our souls are restless until they rest in You."

Past Elder said...

Yes it is about physical rest.

Not only about physical rest, but that is an essential part of it.

The original Sabbath was something virtually unheard of in its time. There was no such thing as a "day off" or "week-end". Especially for a slave class, such as the Israelites in Egypt, to whom this was given.

But like the command "let my people go", the Sabbath was not its own point or for its own sake. Like the command "let my people go" there was a reason for it, to worship according to the institution and command of God.

This says two things. One, it says the affairs of this world, our getting and spending in which we waste our powers, as the Jesuit poet Hopkins put it, are not the most important thing, not even in this world. And they are to be put aside for the worship of God. We don't take a day off as a matter of worker's rights, but because the world's matters even in this world are not to be 24/7/365 and our lives are to show that.

And two, when we do that, we not only set aside the cares of this world, we experience in this world something like the matters of eternity and heaven. We experience something like what it will be when the cares of this world have ceased and only the things of God remain.

So rest is not some Platonic ideal or figure of speech. It is real rest, not for its own sake but for the sake of that in which we rest here imperfectly and later perfectly. For that reason, we neither simply take a day off from our worldly pursuits, nor add rules and commands about our worship and observance.

We are neither to just hang out nor worry about whether lighting a stove violates the command about fires in your camp on the Sabbath. You can drive to church! (Rabbinically, starting an internal combustion engine violates the commandment, therefore one does not drive to synagogue but walks.)

None of this is to deny that the Sabbath is about sancifying or that the rest is untimately in God in Christ Jesus. It is to say God is not a Platonist or Augustinian (latter day Platonist) ideal. It is to say that on the one hand our taking a day off from the pursuits of the world for the sanctification in God's service to us in Word and Sacrament is to witness to the world that it pursuits are not as important as God's sanctification, and on the other hand to say that the physical rest which we are to enjoy complements and participates in the rest in God for which it allows and which will one day be our life itself in eternal rest.

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work -- and as if this were not clear enough, he adds -- thou, nor thy son, nor thy daugther, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates.

And when we then as now rejected that and the second set of tablets were given, he said it again: Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest; in plowing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.

So no matter how pressing, we are not to live as the world's concerns drive our lives, and we are to live with a God given foretaste of the eternal rest we pray he gives us. Requiem means rest, refreshment, support.

Man was indeed not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for Man, and the rest it gives is not served by removing part of it or Platonising it into a symbol for the rest of it.

Anonymous said...

[nit pick mode on]: after saying the Lutheran Symbols treat this not as being about resting, but about sanctifying, you make a strong case for it being about resting!
Now, by no means would it be about resting if it was our work to make the day holy. Nor would it be about resting if it was our work to sustain saving faith on our own. But, as you point out, that is not the case! It is God, through His Word, who does the work on the Sabbath, giving us rest. Our resting, God working to sanctify - they go hand in hand.
[nit pick mode off]: very nice post. I'm planning on distributing it to my elders.

Anonymous said...

And two, when we do that, we not only set aside the cares of this world, we experience in this world something like the matters of eternity and heaven. We experience something like what it will be when the cares of this world have ceased and only the things of God remain.

That reminds me of Cardinal Newman's beautiful prayer about the eternal Sabbath rest:

May He support us all the day long, till the shades lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over and our work is done! Then in His Mercy may He give us a
safe lodging and a holy rest and peace at the last.

Complete Thy work, O Lord, and as Thou hast loved me from the beginning so make me to love Thee unto the end.

Past Elder said...

"Work" has a particular meaning regarding the Sabbath. Since we are imitating God, who rested from his labours on the seventh day, and those labours were creation, the principle is to refrain from any work that involves creation: melakha (work) is anything that involves producing, creating or transforming an object.

The kiddush said over the wine expresses this concept in two ways: we rest from creating as God did, and also, slaves rest when allowed to, free men as we are under God can choose to. Which is what was said before -- we rest in both a wordly sense and in a Godly sense, a witness to the world and a participation in the divine.

The Sabbath begins and ends with candles, which also make the double point. The Friday night candles at the beginning symbolise the light and joy of a day spent in the things of God, the candle at its end symbolises the separation of this time from the cares of the world, hence its name havdala or separation, and now we return to productive wordly work.

Traditionally, it is believed that a second angel accompanies each Jew on the Sabbath, along with a "second soul". The havdala even points to Messiah. It is prayed that Elijah will come in our day to announce the coming of the Messiah.

We know the Messiah has come in Jesus. We do not need to fulfill the ritual demands of the Sabbath. At the same time, freely celebrating a time with our congregation and family to partake of Word and Sacrament, to partake here of what God has created for us that will endure forever and separate outselves from our worldly labour that will not, this is the rest of sanctification, here for a day a week, later forever.

Anonymous said...

And to further elaborate, the Sabbath is Israel's celebration and thanksgiving for Creation.

For Christians, Sunday is the celebration of the New Creation which takes on supernatural qualities that had not yet been revealed in the resurrection of the Lord.

So, yes, as Christians we do not celebrate the ritual aspects of the Sabbath of the OT.

Sch├╝tz said...

Did I miss something, or was Christine the only one to mention "Sunday" in relation to the Third Commandment?

I was not really aware of it when I was a Lutheran, but have since become aware that Lutheran interpretation of the 3rd Commandment completely downplays Sunday as a day of any particular significance, especially in regard to the Sunday gathering for the Eucharist.

This came home strongly to me when my father was explaining that they were considering changing their day for "church" to Friday nights while they await a new pastor. That means that pastors from neighouring parishes can come and do "church" for them each week.

Fine, I said, but surely this will not be an alternative to a gathering of some kind on Sunday, even without a pastor?

He didn't get it. Why would they want to come to Church on Sunday if they had already had a service on Friday night?

What do you think?