04 Apr Pastoring In Pandemic, Part 2: Sabbath As a Hidden Gem
One by one, Governors across the United States are calling “Stay At Home” or “Shelter In Place” Orders. Legal decrees, or commands, that direct individuals and families to not leave their home, in hopes of stemming the disastrous spread of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Messages crossing social media platforms decry these orders as countless voices express feeling “stuck at home.” Some (including yours truly) resist the negativity of this message, sharing an alternative point of view — “You’re not STUCK at home, you’re SAFE at home. One word can make all the difference.”
The orders given by governments is an effort to stem the tide of critical diagnoses, and even death. However, walking in this story with countless pastors from all over the globe, I am sharing a vantage point of “Stay At Home Orders as Sabbath Delight.”
While following these orders can give margin that allows for time and attention to myriad spiritual practices, I posit that the governmental positions being taken actually hold most closely to the 4th Commandment. While most think that the word Sabbath means to rest, that is only a part of the command. The word Sabbath itself actually means “to cease.”
Think about how these legal orders parallel the Sabbath:
- Many stores and businesses are closed by mandate, making it impossible to do work and business while the orders are in effect.
- Many are either not able to work at all, or are working from home. The work from home is a story in itself, but in many cases, we’re able to spend more time with family than we maybe ever have.
- In metropolitan areas, reports of empty freeways are heralded as news. This may be a stretch, but I wonder about the parallel of the land (albeit concrete roads) being given mandated rest from its labor.
- (I welcome additional parallels not mentioned here!)
Conversely, in the crush of adrenaline, comparison and guilt fueled activity, I am seeing many Pastors completely miss this deeper work of embedding Sabbath into our lives. Instead of slowing down, which is the point of both the sacred command AND the current secular edicts, I’m finding Pastors speeding up their pace to keep up with technology and new expectations.
A recent conversation with a couple of Pastors around this phenomenon found us in 2 Chronicles 36:11-21. The passage outlines the story of King Zedekiah not following God’s health commands, allowing for King Nebuchadnezzar to plunder God’s people into 70 years of Babylonian captivity.
Apparently, the length of captivity God allowed was directly related to their disobedience to Sabbath! His edict to let the land have a Sabbath–they were to let it have one year of rest every seven years–hadn’t been followed. So, in verse 21, we are told, “This is exactly the message of God that Jeremiah had preached: the desolate land put to an extended sabbath rest, a seventy-year Sabbath rest making up for all the unkept Sabbaths.” (MSG)
Pastor Rich Villodas of New Life Fellowship in Queens, NY, says, “You won’t go to hell if you don’t keep the Sabbath, but you might live in hell if you don’t keep the Sabbath!”
By no means do I think that COVID-19 or Coronavirus is some means of punishment for not keeping Sabbath. But it sure is interesting to me that when Pastoring In Pandemic even gives us space for Sabbath, to slow down, we seem to follow our inclination to speed up instead.
I really believe that a deeper work of God through this season is to bring beneath the surface transformation through the (albeit forced) practice of Sabbath – ceasing – stopping.
So, Pastor, let me give you permission (as though you need such from me!)–while Pastoring In Pandemic, to do these two things:
- Slow it down! Resist the urge to pick up your pace. Pick up a copy of Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath As Resistance, and let it sink deeply into your soul.
- Let God be God. Really, you don’t have to be God, meeting everyone’s needs at such a distance. Dallas Willard wrote, “The command is “Do no work.” Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don’t have to DO to BE. Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming.”
May the grace gift of Sabbath you and I are being given transform us in our deepest parts!
© 2020 Paul Kuzma