Long, long ago, when the Spirit of God hovered over the surface of the deep, God spoke—breathed a word of truth and light and life … and the word of God was heard. That word was considered. It was contemplated. It was shared and talked about. The word of God was prayed over, and, eventually, the word was written down. And, we believe, the Spirit of God moved (and moves) within the word made writing—breathes and speaks within the word made Scripture.
Today, we read, as part of God’s word—as part of God moving within the word, that every week, every seven days, we are to set aside a day—set it aside for rest—for complete rest, we read, and for holy convocation—for contemplation and for worship. We are to set one day each week aside for an intentional focus on God and God’s work—an intentional focus on God’s working in, through and beyond our own living.
God wants this consistent practice integrated into our living. Not to be legalistic about it—to work toward—what was it—perfect attendance pins or certificates? But to affirm and celebrate the importance of worship as practice—the consistent work it always takes to improve and maintain anything. Anything you want to get good at—stay good at, you practice. God desires our practice of worship.
Now notice in our text for today, that our few verses introduce a chapter that provides details for seven annual celebrations. As such, instructions for a weekly sabbath celebration kind of stand out. Why begin a chapter on annual celebrations with a weekly one? Come to think of it, why begin a chapter that centers around pilgrimages to Jerusalem and rites in the temple with a celebration independent of both Jerusalem and the temple? Why begin a chapter that emphasizes the land in predominantly agricultural festivals with a celebration not tied to the land?
For precisely those reasons? Remember, we believe much of the Old Testament to have been written during the time of Exile—that time when the people of God had no land, had no harvest, had no temple, had no high priest, and yet, remained a people consistently being shaped in their faith.
Notice this chapter (unlike previous chapters) is not directed to Aaron and his sons—to the priests. This chapter is directed “ rather ‘to the people of Israel’ (vv. 2, 9, 23, 33, 44)” (Lloyd R. Bailey, Leviticus-Numbers in Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2005, 277). This is how you become my people. Not in what others do for you, but in what you commit to yourself.
Because Sabbath—Sabbath can be celebrated in a foreign land. Sabbath can be celebrated before a temple is built and after it’s destroyed. Sabbath does not require a high priest. Because as important as the annual celebrations are, it’s the week in week out consistency of celebration that preserves identity as the people of God.
And so Sabbath takes its place at the beginning of the chapter. Sabbath takes its place introducing every other celebration. And Sabbath takes its place even within the story of creation. On the seventh day, God rested. The identity Sabbath shapes in us as those who follow in the way of God is the identity of God.
So welcome again, this week, to the practice of worship you’ve chosen—to rest within routine—a day of rest that continues the work of creation. Welcome to the transforming presence of God—breathing life and light and truth into our being even now.