Saturday, March 26, 2016

Easter: A Weekly Sabbath

March 26, 2016

(An icon of the Resurrection, from Russia c. 1900. Source: Wikimedia, Creative Commons License).

Easter is upon us! A once-a-year festival, it reminds us of, and celebrates, Christ’s victory over death, the central tenet of Christian belief: He is risen! And yet, it is a more than annual feast. In fact, part of its true significance is embedded in a process most, if not all, Christians realize, but fail to recognize: that every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection, that every week we are called to remember His glorious Resurrection. As Dorothy C. Bass has put it: “For Christians, every Sunday is Easter Sunday, a time to gather together with song and prayer, to hear the Word proclaimed, and to recognize Christ in the breaking of the bread.”

This should lead us to ask: what does Sabbath mean to us? I know very few Christians (myself included) who take seriously the notion of Sunday rest and joy, who remember the Resurrection throughout their day and not just at Liturgy. Helpfully enough, I spent most of this Triduum reading Abraham Joshua Heschel’s classic, The Sabbath, which attempts both to explain the institution and to explain away its negative associations.

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In his book, Heschel makes clear that the Jewish Sabbath is not just a day laden with rules; it is not the dour day we associate with the Puritans. Instead, the Sabbath is a joyful time, a time when married couples are expected to (and praised for) having sex, when people wear their finest clothes, eat their most wholesome foods, and refuse to worry or in any way exhibit negative, worldly emotions. As Heschel writes, “it is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath.”

The entire day is intended to be a foretaste of eternity, or for Christians, of the Kingdom. The day should be filled with practices that reflect its joyful nature: just as on Easter Sunday we come together, so should each Sunday reflect this same spirit, in whatever way makes the most sense for a given family. I recall that in my past, the Italian side of my family would assemble every week for a Sunday dinner, a beautiful tradition, if I do say so myself.

Obviously, we as Christians do not observe the Sabbath as do Jews, but we have much to learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters, chief among them that the Sabbath is a spirit, a feeling, as much as a singular set of rules. How wonderful would our Sundays be if we refused to handle money? If we ate together after strolling in the park? If we invited others from our community, especially the marginalized and downtrodden, to dine with us? If we went to Church together and did not let the spirit end there, but prayed throughout the day?

There could be no better way to interweave Easter into our lives, to joy in Christ’s Resurrection, His victory over death. As a graduate student, I understand this is not easy. Most weekends I attend Liturgy alone. I use Sundays to catch up on work. I let worries enter my mind far too often. But the Sabbath exists to give us respite, to demonstrate that we are in the world but not of it, not beholden to the getting and spending of secular life. It affords us time to experience the bliss of the Kingdom, of relaxation and prayer, of service to others, the very things of which our daily toil robs us.

And so, in wishing you a Happy Easter, I pray that we will be able to reinterpret and reinvigorate our notion of Sabbath. Sunday is more than day for church attendance; it is a time in which we might experience Easter every weekend of the year, a way of indelibly marking ourselves for God, of saying “Christ is risen. Glorify Him!”


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