Growing in Faith

The gift of Sabbath for a society in need of rest

When Mark Scarlata decided to restructure his life around a day of rest which included disconnecting completely from the digital world he discovered in new ways the beauty and transforming power of God gift of Sabbath.

By Mark Scarlata

One of the greatest joys of studying scripture in depth is that, no matter how many times you go back to a particular verse or story, there is always something new that emerges. The beauty of scripture is that it’s an active voice that continues to speak to our world as it draws us into its world, where the divine drama of God’s movement unfolds before our eyes.

Years ago, when I was in the thick of writing a commentary on Exodus, the theme of sabbath kept cropping up in unexpected places. The story of the manna in the wilderness offers a sabbath framework for six days of gathering and one day of rest.

The fourth commandment given on Mount Sinai reminds us that sabbath rest is a command for God’s covenant people to imitate the example he sets in the creation story. Further sabbath commands offer two distinct markers before the sin of the Golden Calf and before the building of the tabernacle. The sabbath is also described as an everlasting covenant that will sanctify God’s people and help them to draw near to his holiness.

What I found so remarkable about this emphasis on the sabbath was its prominence in the Exodus story – the archetypal story of salvation in the Old Testament – and how much it shapes our vision of the gift of rest.

The transformation from death to life in the Exodus story is about physical release from the unjust and brutal structures established by human beings. But it does not end there. For God’s people to grow in holiness, to experience his divine presence in their midst, to flourish in the blessing of his salvation, they must follow him into the hallowed sanctuaries of time. They must follow his rhythm and cease from their work on the sabbath, breathe in deeply, and celebrate the gift of resting together as his covenant community... 

The Revd Dr Mark Scarlata is a tutor and lecturer in Old Testament Studies at St Mellitus College, London.

Sabbath Rest: The Beauty of God’s Rhythm for a Digital Age is published by SCM Press.

This piece first appeared in Church Times, 31 May 2019.

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