Day of Ceasing, Day of Joy -- By: Elaine A. Heath

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 27:0 (NA 1995)
Article: Day of Ceasing, Day of Joy
Author: Elaine A. Heath

Day of Ceasing, Day of Joy

Elaine A. Heath

Rev. Heath (M.Div.,ATS, 1995) is a United Methodist pastor in north east Ohio.


When I was ten years old a friend of my mothers offered to take my brother and me to Sunday School. Our experiences with church were as scattered and varied as the numerous places we had lived. Now and then in our familial hopscotching across the country, some kindly neighbor would offer to take us children to Sunday School. We attended the Nazarene vacation Bible school, the Baptist church, the First Christian Church, the Seventh Day Adventist church. I even made it to a Mormon gathering once. So off we went, wondering what this one would be like. Two hours later my mother’s friend dropped us back at our front door.

“Well, what did you think?” my mother asked. “It was okay,” I answered. “The preacher’s wife smoked and read the comics before Sunday School started.” My mother nearly choked, then said she guessed that was the kind of Sunday School she would like to go to. She talked about blue laws and hypocrites, and railed on about the Seventh Day Adventist folks who said all the people who smoke are going to Hell, but it was rather beyond me, especially since I was hungry and ready to read the comics myself. I remember, though, thinking about the rightness of smoking and reading the comics on Sunday. Were there really people who thought God got mad when people read comics on Sunday? Just what did God think?

It has been nearly three decades since I first mused upon sabbath theology. Those primitive and youthful cogitations led to others. The question of what sabbath means stays with me, though. No one is better at breaking the sabbath than church workers. It is one of the ironies of our lives. In my pursuit of understanding the sabbath, I realized with increasing delight that God’s purpose in the day of rest is not to take away our comics. (Cigarettes are another matter.) On the contrary, the sabbath is to be a day of joy, refreshment, childlike wonder and play. It is to be a day unlike other days, a day set apart for the sheer pleasure of living. Not only that, the sabbath is to be the central day from which all other days are lived. Just as the sabbath was the zenith of creation, it is to be the high point of our week.

Let us turn now to Genesis, where we first meet the sabbath. After that we will explore sabbath teachings in the Pentateuch, highlights from the prophets, and the New Testament, most notably Jesus’ interpretation of the sabbath. In so doing we may discover new ways in which to help ourselves and other Christians more fully enjoy all that the sabbath is meant to be.

Sabbath in the Pentateuch

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