It's easy, starting out, to approach the Sabbath like a Pharisee, as though the Sabbath has all of these hard and fast rules about how it is to be practiced. It's easy to read where the Bible says, "On the seventh day, you shall do no work," and get caught up in the idea that essentially everything we do is work.
Vacuuming the house, washing the dishes, checking the email, mowing the lawn, tending the baby, minding the pets, cooking, driving, hosting others in your home - all these things are things we intentionally do, exerting effort to accomplish them. All these things are work. Therefore, we should not do any of them on the Sabbath.
I think that's the place where we all start out, defining our Sabbath by all the things that we don't do on this day. All the things we're taking a break from. All the things we can't be held responsible for. For one day a week, it's not our problem.
The problem with this view (and there are many, but how about just one for now) is that when we take this approach to Sabbath, it becomes a burden, not just for us, but for everyone else who knows us.
For us, it feels like we're putting ourselves into a smaller and smaller box. We're limited. We're not experiencing rest because there are too many rules to keep. We can't relax because if we do, we might forget all the things we aren't supposed to be doing on the Sabbath and accidentally do some of them anyway. We're constantly on guard, constantly thinking, constantly evaluating whether we can or we can't, and it isn't long before our Sabbath, our one day of rest, our time carved out, becomes the most stressful day of our week. Instead of looking forward to it, we dread that seventh day each week. We dread our time set apart. We dread this sacred space, and it's just not sacred any more. It's not a beacon; it's a burden. It's not desirous; it's a drag.
We come to despise the Sabbath.
Not only do we despise the Sabbath, but everyone around us despises our Sabbath, too. They hate that one day a week, we can't help them. We won't help them. We aren't available. We aren't willing. We're so intent on keeping the rules that nothing is good enough reason to even risk breaking one of them. Let's say you don't cook on Sunday because it's the Sabbath. But let's say you are caring for a family member who is hungry. If you don't cook, they don't eat. Let's say you don't clean on the Sabbath, but your dog throws up all over the floor. Sorry. Too bad. It's the Sabbath. We all just have to walk around the vomit until morning breaks.
Let's say you don't use your computer on the Sabbath, but your family member is having some technical difficulties with theirs. Maybe they are working on something very important, maybe something with a deadline, and now, they're stuck. Since it's the Sabbath, you won't help them; this would break your computer rule. Let's say you don't "work" on the Sabbath, but you're suddenly asked to babysit a niece, a nephew, a grandchild on short notice because something requires the parents to be away. Will you say yes to babysitting, even though that itself is work and will require more work? Will you say yes and permit the youngster in your home, but not interact with him/her? Will you discipline your own child on the Sabbath if he/she is doing something wrong? Isn't this work? Has the Sabbath become a free day for your children, a day when they have no accountability because to discipline them would be "work"?
There are all kinds of troubles with approaching the Sabbath like a Pharisee. It puts an undue burden on you, so much so that you don't even look forward to this time set aside. It also puts an undue burden on everyone around you. Sabbath or not, there are people in this world that need you. When you hold legalistically to a certain idea about what the Sabbath is, about what its "rules" are, you fail them. You fail the people in your life who love you and whom you love. You create a horrible burden for them not only by failing to be present for them but by holding them accountable to your own practice of Sabbath. You're making them practice your rest. That doesn't work for anybody.
But I think this is how all of us start out. I think this is where our minds naturally go. This is how Sabbath is done, is it not? This is what it means, right? No work means no work. Rest means rest. Sabbath is such a counter-cultural idea that if we don't have some hard and fast rules about it, it would be nearly impossible to keep. But a ruled Sabbath is just no Sabbath at all - not for you, not for anyone else, and not for the glory of God.
And when we realize this, we turn the page and discover a new voice speaking into the Sabbath - the voice of Jesus. More on that tomorrow.