Saturday, April 16, 2011

A Sanctuary in Time

Last night I spent my second Friday night in a row welcoming Shabbat with Jewish friends, this time at Congregation Beth Israel with some of the members of this year's confirmation class from St. Francis. (Last Friday night I was at Temple Immanuel for their rabbi's retirement service!)

What struck me anew is how differently Jews think of "Sabbath" from our Puritan Christian ancestors - or at least the version of Puritan Sabbath-keeping that has been passed down.  As I said to one of our confirmands last night, I'm always struck by joy when I welcome Shabbat, not generally a charism for which our Puritan forebears were known. Christian Sabbath-keeping tends to be characterized by the list of things one is not supposed to do. I know that is often how Christians perceive Jewish Sabbath-keeping as well, and even as legalistic. But the liturgy, at least, is characterized by a sense of welcoming Sabbath and of a profound awareness of what a gift it is.

I am reminded of the great Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), who taught that Shabbat is "a sanctuary in time." (See The Sabbath: It's Meaning for Modern Man) Here is an important excerpt from that book:
One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word kadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar? It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word kadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy." …The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.
Lately, I have not been very good at sanctifying time. It has been a busy Lent for many reasons, some of them beyond my control. These last two Friday nights have been a "word of Adonai" for me--like a 2x4 hitting me over the head. Last night after I returned from worship I sat with some friends to watch the Red Sox lose again. As I sat down in my friend's living room, I felt so exhausted I thought I would fall asleep right there. Our culture doesn't tend to value rest, but our bodies cry out for it.

This, from The Book of Common Prayer, on this Saturday morning. I hope to be more intentional about living this prayer during the Fifty Days of Easter that lie beyond this upcoming Holy Week.
Almighty God, who after the creation of the world rested from all your work and sanctified a day of rest for all your creatures: Grant that we, putting away all earthly anxieties, may be duly prepared for the service of your sanctuary, and that our rest here upon earth may be a preparation for the eternal rest promised to your people in heaven, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 

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