Sabbath: The Critical Edge

R.L.Petersen

Policy is the outward expression of inward moral vision. Debate over policy alone, then, cannot shape the current national election cycle. Equal emphasis belongs to discernment of moral vision – who has it, and for whom is it in deficit? How are we to disambiguate a David from an Ahab?

The Abrahamic confessions consider these questions in settings and practices associated with Sabbath/Sunday/Friday Prayers. Set apart from the week as an alternative platform for ferreting out wisdom—like that needed to set the direction of a national narrative— these gatherings’ readings, intentions, and meditative strength offer a template for the social ordering of society.

Defined as a time for intimate communion with God in whatever form such gatherings prescribe, participants acknowledge the existence of a rule higher than any mere human origin, and worship a creator who saw fit to clothe the universe in beauty and fill it with the potential for joy. 

Found in the Decalogue as one of the Ten Commandments, it has been said that the Sabbath commandment explains all the other commandments, or all the other forms of this one commandment. By such observances, placed ahead of the other commandments, God becomes present to creation, and we become present to God, and to one another. 

The Decalogue defines Sabbath in two places. In Exodus 20: 8-11, we are told to imitate the God who rescued us—historically, from slavery in Egypt, and in the present and future from unknown threats—by cutting ties with those who are unfair to us, and/or oppress others. In the second passage, Deuteronomy 5:12-15, our response to God’s grace results in a changed way of life. 

But what does it mean to imitate God, or to be caught up in God’s grace? That is filled out in the other nine commandments—and may well be played out in political and politial debates. In the end, it is all about Sabbath, or Sunday, or Friday Prayers and how we appropriate this day in our lives. This day lies at the root of the Decalogue, freedom and Western jurisprudence.

[1] Barth, K. (1958). Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T. Clark, pub.) III.4, p. 53.