By Steve Hands

By now, we’re all tired of staying at home. We’re tired of not being able to see our friends. We’re tired of not being able to go out and do what we’d like to do. We’re tired of nothing but bad news as we experience loss and hear stories of loss. We’re tired. The stress of all we’re going through makes even regular tasks more taxing. But there is good news as we turn our eyes to Exodus chapters 23 and 24. As God commands his people to Sabbath-giving and sabbath-rest, he reminds them that he is their maker and provider, who is bringing them to a place of rest, and providing them with appetizers of the intimacy and feasting they will enjoy with him forever. So we too participate in Sabbath-giving and Sabbath-rest as we trust God our creator and sustainer whose promise and presence break in even today.

First, we are invited to participate in Sabbath-giving and Sabbath-rest (Exodus 23:10-12). Continuing God’s theme of justice from last week, God gives his people an unusual command: to let fields lie fallow for 1 year out of every 7 years, and to cease from work on the 7th day of every week, with the explicit purpose of providing for the poor and refreshing the vulnerable. Those who are strong and wealthy may not feel like they need a break, but they need to engage in sabbath-giving and sabbath-rest as an elemental kindness[1] to their more vulnerable neighbors. Likewise today we are called to elemental kindness in our work habits and the use of our resources for the good of those more vulnerable than ourselves.

Sabbath-giving and Sabbath-rest may seem impossible until we learn to trust God our creator and sustainer (Exodus 23:13-19). Following up these challenging commands, God invites his people to celebrate three festivals, one at the beginning of the year, one at the planting of the harvest, and one at its ingathering. As God’s people engage in worship and sacrifice at these pivotal moments of the year, they are reminded as God gives them each new year that God is their creator, and as God makes each harvest grow that God is their sustainer. Only with a clear and consistent vision of God who takes care of us can we let go of control long enough to engage in Sabbath-rest, or can we share our resources with others in Sabbath-giving.

As we seek God in these ways, we receive the extra blessing of God’s promises and presence breaking in even today (Exodus 24:1-18). God follows up these commandments with the promise to bring his people into the land he has promised and give them a blessed rest, full of food and water, healthy children, long life, and victory over any who would come against them (24:25-26). God even invites Moses and the elders up for a feast where they see God’s face and eat with him (24:9-11)! It seems like the damage done in the Garden of Eden is finally being undone, and God’s people will finally find their home with God again. We know that the Israelites eventually break the covenant in various ways, but God relentlessly continues his plan to bring his people home to him as he sends his Son Jesus. We too have a place of rest God is preparing for us, a glorious hope of home with God where we see him face-to-face and rest in joy forever. Because of the work of Christ on the cross and the new and better covenant he has made between God and us, we have access into this joyful, free, glorious presence of God even now by his Holy Spirit in us.

So church, as we deal with the exhaustion of this challenging time, may we seek God, learning to trust our Creator and Sustainer, enjoying his presence with us now as we await the hope he has purchased for us, and participate in Sabbath-rest and Sabbath-giving with joyful hearts.

[1] Eugene Peterson coined the phrase “elemental kindness” related to Sabbath Rest in his book Working the Angles